The best TV apps for kids

Video-on-demand apps competing with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, DisneyLife and PlayKids: how do they compare?

The best TV apps for kids

Children in 2016 understand that they can watch TV shows ‘on demand’ on a range of devices, from the family tablet to a parent’s smartphone.

There is now a growing collection of apps serving these habits, from established broadcasters to internet companies and inventive startups. Some are free, while others charge a monthly subscription.

All offer shows and videos to stream, with other features offered by some including downloads for offline viewing; the ability to set time limits and create separate profiles for your children; and extra educational games.

An obvious but important point: these apps fit within a wider, healthy lifestyle for children: from reading and physical creativity to active play away from a screen, rather than replacing books, bikes and splattering the house with paints.

YouTube Kids
Android / iOS (Free)

A growing number of children are watching more YouTube videos than traditional TV shows, but the main YouTube app can be problematic in terms of controlling where your kids end up in its not-always-child-friendly catalogue.

YouTube Kids aims to solve that headache: it pulls in videos for children — with a flagging system for parents to alert it if anything unsuitable slips through the filters — and presents them in an easy scrolling interface.

Children will find big brands like Barbie and Shaun the Sheep nestling alongside popular YouTube channels like The Diamond Minecart and nursery-rhymes channel Little Baby Bum. Once your child has watched a few videos, the app will start recommending more that it thinks they’ll like.

When setting up, you can tell the app whether your child is pre-school or school-age. You can set a time-limit of between one and 120 minutes per session. There is no offline downloads feature.

YouTube Kids is free to use, with no in-app purchases. However, it does include advertising, which the company says it screens for child-suitability.

Amazon Prime Video
Android / iOS (part of £79-a-year Prime membership)

If you subscribe to Amazon’s Prime membership to get free shipping on products you buy, the Prime Video films and TV streaming service comes bundled in too, with its own app to download.

This isn’t aimed purely at children: there’s content for all ages, so you’ll need to be overseeing your kids when they’re choosing what to watch. There are a number of children’s shows available though: Peppa Pig, Tom and Jerry, Pingu, SpongeBob SquarePants and other famous brands.

Amazon has also commissioned its own ‘originals’ shows for children. The pick of the bunch are a lovely stop-motion animation series called Tumble Leaf; science-focused drama Annedroids; and sitcom Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.

You can download shows and films for offline viewing, as well as adding them to a ‘watchlist’ to remember them. You can also use the app to access shows and films that you’ve bought from Amazon’s digital store — good for those not available to stream.

Prime Video is free for Prime members, who currently pay £79 a year for the overall service.

Netflix
Android / iOS (£5.99 - £8.99 a month)

Like Prime Video, Netflix is a TV and film-streaming service aimed at all ages. Unlike Amazon, it has a dedicated Kids feature, where any family members on your account who you have designated as children will only be able to see kids’ content.

On Netflix’s website, you can specify whether they can see shows ‘for older kids and below’ or just ‘for little kids only’, while adding a PIN to your account to ensure your children don’t try to watch unsuitable content on the sly.

Grouped into genres like action, adventures, funny and dinosaurs, there are plenty of shows to choose from. Like Amazon, Netflix has commissioned some originals too: mainly from its partnership with Hollywood studio DreamWorks to make shows based on films like Turbo and Puss In Boots. A pair of exclusive Lego-branded shows were recently added too.

One of Netflix’s drawbacks — for adults and children alike — is its lack of an offline downloads mode, meaning it’s best used in the home or somewhere with a stable Wi-Fi connection.

A monthly subscription costs £5.99, £7.49 or £8.99 a month depending whether you want HD (or ‘Ultra HD’ on the highest tier), and how many screens you want to be able to watch on at the same time — one, two and four respectively.

DisneyLife
Android / iOS (£9.99 a month)

DisneyLife is the broadest app here in terms of its content: besides films and TV shows, it also has digital books and streaming music.

It’s all Disney though, which for TV means shows like Phineas and Ferb, Hannah Montana, That’s So Raven and Sofia the First from its Disney XD, Disney Junior and Disney Channel networks. Marvel and Star Wars cartoons are on the way too.

Outside TV, there’s a stash of films, from older movies like The Sword in the Stone and The Black Cauldron to more modern fare including Brave and Frozen — and plenty of classic cartoons starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and friends.

Shows can be downloaded for offline viewing on your device, while parental controls include profiles for each child — including restricting them to U, PG or 12-rated content, and setting weekday and weekend time-limits on their use of the app.

Parental controls include the ability to create a profile for each child then set whether they can watch U, PG or 12-rated content, as well as setting weekday and weekend time limits on their use of the app. DisneyLife costs £9.99 a month via subscription.

PlayKids
Android / iOS (£2.99 a month)

Having expanded across the world from its origins in Latin America, PlayKids offers a blend of TV shows and educational games.

There’s less of a British emphasis to its shows: those available include Pocoyo, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Om Nom’s Stories — Om Nom being the hero of the Cut the Rope mobile games — Stella and Sam and Sid the Science Kid.

The games are a mix of memory, puzzles and other educational content, as well as music and colouring activities, and a recently-introduced foreign language-learning section. You can create individual profiles for your children.

PlayKids has a certain amount of shows and games for free, but its premium ‘PlayKids Premium’ subscription costs £2.99 a month to unlock everything.

Which app is right for your kids?

PlayKids has the toughest task as it is trying to persuade parents to stump up for a new monthly subscription, against competition that’s either free or which parents are likely already paying for.

It is worth trying: blending educational games with TV is an inventive idea. Meanwhile, DisneyLife should benefit from having a community of fanatical Disneyphiles (of all ages) to aim for.

For the rest, which app you choose likely depends on your existing media diet. If you already subscribe to Netflix, chances are you’ll create profiles for your children. If you got an Amazon Prime membership for the free shipping, you may try its video app.

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