Earlier this month, the free kids’ streaming service ROKiT Flix became available to anyone with a mobile device. The new platform provides kids with 2D animation, stop-motion comics and various AI features—all with no advertisements. At launch, its lineup included animated stories from the Bible, shows such as Oh No, Nolan! and much more. Co-founder and chairman Jonathan Kendrick speaks to TV Kids Weekly about the inspiration for the new service, how it utilizes AI, its various unique features and more.
TV KIDS: What inspired the launch of ROKiT Flix?
KENDRICK: It came about in many aspects by accident. I was in a hotel room, and, as everybody who has been in a hotel room knows, you open the drawer, and there’s a Bible there. I’m quite a scriptural person. I’ve asked a lot of hotel managers, Does anybody ever bother with that? They say, No, nobody picks up the Bible. I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be great if you could get the Bible into the hands of young kids? This crusty old book that nobody—particularly Gen Z—reads anymore. So I thought, we’ll animate the whole Bible in a very short form, so every story is no longer than four minutes because of their attention span. We’ve animated the whole of the Old Testament now. Once I’d done that, I thought maybe I could talk to hotel chains and instead of putting a [physical] Bible in the drawer, on the hotel channel, you could have the Bible.
That’s what I did. I made six hours of animation, three feature-length films. It cost a lot of money, as you can imagine; three feature-length animations is not cheap. It’s not Pixar stuff, but it’s animated. And I thought, uh-oh, I’ve done it again. I’ve built this thing, but how am I going to get it out there now? Because I’ve got this incredible team in India who did this for me, I said, why don’t we create our own streaming channel? And not just do Biblical stuff, let’s do everything. Entertainment, education. Focus mainly on family and kids’ stuff. That’s how it came about.
TV KIDS: Tell me about how AI has been utilized for ROKiT Flix’s programming and overall development.
KENDRICK: With AI, the genie’s out of the bottle, and you can’t stop it. People are going, Oh dear, oh dear, but maybe we should’ve thought about that before we released it. You either embrace a new technology or you don’t. We did. Although AI is fantastic, it is very limited because at the moment, there is no real continuity. It can’t do full videos. We’ve embraced AI as much as we can. We created a separate team, mainly in India but also in Mexico, that can do AI stories. And we’ve created a whole development of AI, mainly for education. We call them the ROKiT Storybooks. We’ve done the whole Bible again. It’s not full animation; it’s stop-motion animation. We’re doing Shakespeare, [Charles] Dickens, the works of all the Greek philosophers and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. We’re trying to bring these stories alive, some great literary works that kids just aren’t reading.
TV KIDS: Speaking of the ROKiT Storybook collection, how are these stories chosen for adaptation?
KENDRICK: We sit around and think, What would be interesting for children and youngsters to have a new fresh version, rather than looking on a page? We just pick them ourselves. We’re not following any curriculum, although we have been approached by a lot of academics and educational people asking, Can we use this in our education? For example, we’re doing the history of the world. There are some great books out there, like three inches thick. We’re animating the whole of the history of the world. The one issue we’re worried about, if I’m honest, I’m insisting that we make it historically perfect. That is a big thing. We do curate these. We have a whole team saying, Is that right? We don’t want to offend anybody, and we don’t want to make a mistake where we’ve said something that isn’t true. And AI can do that if you’re not careful. It’ll make a statement that looks like it’s absolutely spot on, but it’s not quite true.
TV KIDS: One especially unique feature of the service is ROKiT Animation All Stars, which allows children to make their own content through AI. What drove the decision to include this feature? How does it work?
KENDRICK: Talking to a lot of people I know, a lot of kids are animating a lot of stuff in their bedrooms and their garages that will never see the light of day. Some of them are really, really talented. This was before AI. And they’ve got great ideas for a program, a movie or a series, but they have no way of getting them out there. So, ROKiT Animation All Stars is a little bit like Pop Idol. Bring us your stuff, confidentially, nobody will know if you get refused. If we like it, we’ll animate it and we’ll create a series for you. It’s basically Pop Idol for animation, for kids who want to get their stuff out there.
TV KIDS: How much content do you plan to produce yourselves versus through the use of AI?
KENDRICK: For the Bible, we do both. We do it in real animation and in AI. The Bible in real animation is like a TV series. The whole thing is animated. The AI [version] is more [like] our storybooks. It’s more [like] pictures with stories. But AI will get better. To answer your question, we produce an awful lot. We have 200 people in India producing our content in the traditional sense. We’ve just increased that by 20 percent to take care of AI. So, we do both. I think 80 percent is our own stuff, 20 percent is now AI. That will probably go up to 30-35 percent, but we don’t really want to do any more than that. We want to keep our creative juices and our creative people separate. But we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of hours of our content.
TV KIDS: Are third-party acquisitions part of the mix?
KENDRICK: We’ve done some very major deals with anime studios in Japan, where a lot of their stuff is in Japanese. We’re dubbing it, taking the license for it and converting it into English. Believe it or not, they’re buying it back off of us when it’s converted into English because we do such a good job.
TV KIDS: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
KENDRICK: I’m very nervous and worried about social media. We didn’t have it when I was a young man, and you couldn’t be bullied or [preyed upon]. What we wanted to do with ROKiT Flix: not only is it free and there are no ads, but it is completely family-oriented. We know—because we’re all parents—you can put your children in front of ROKiT Flix, and they’re not going to see anything horrible, nasty, vicious, anything other than pure family stuff. What I wanted to do was create a safe haven for children. You can never stop naughty people from doing what they want to do, but unlike WhatsApp, where you just need a telephone number to get onto it, and you never know who your children are talking to on TikTok, ROKiT Flix has a more stringent application. We want to know a lot more about you, verify your email, know where you live. Although it won’t stop predators from getting on, it makes it more difficult. The whole purpose of [ROKiT Flix]: it’s free, families can just watch it and not worry about their pocketbooks, and it is safer than the other traditional forms of entertainment out there.