What’s bouncy, candy-colored, and has over 1 billion views on YouTube? An Israeli-made animation series for kids, that’s what.
When Yossi Dahan’s first-born child was born, he did what most new parents do: dive head-first into the color-soaked, baby-talk loaded world of children’s video and television programs. What he found was dizzying, and not in a good way.
“It seemed too fast, too noisy, and not in the right rhythm,” Dahan, who is now the parent of a 5-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, says. “The storytelling was off, and there were just too many objects being thrown in front of the kids.”
Frustrated that children’s animation seemed to be talking at children rather than speaking in their authentic voice, he decided to try and create his own programs. And thus, TuTiTuTv, an Israeli-based YouTube station, was born.
Dahan and his business partner, Tal Gamliel, the co-founders of Twist3D Animation, both became parents within six months of each other. At first, they shopped their children’s program, which features clean lines, minimal dialogue and an emphasis on building and un-building complicated items (think careful dismantling of telephones and trains, all to a kid-friendly musical soundtrack), to television studios around Israel. No one seemed interested.
Their kids, however, seemed captivated by what they were producing. And Dahan noticed something else – his kids loved looking over his shoulder when he was on the computer, and there was very little online content designed just for them.
“I saw my kids, when I was sitting at my computer and watching YouTube videos or just surfing the Web, and they always wanted to be a part of it. Show me, they said. I want to touch it. But there was nothing to show them.”
Rather than hire a series of expensive product testers or child psychologists to act as advisers, Dahan and his team did something much more simple: they designed with their kids in mind, and showed the product at home to see if it was truly engaging.
“Our kids were our tests subjects,” Dahan says. “Later on they became our art directors, our directors, our critics, our everything.”
Having hit a wall with Israeli television, Dahan decided to do something radical. He gave up trying to reach Israeli television audiences and instead launched TuTiTu on YouTube, in English as opposed to Hebrew. If Israel wasn’t interested, he had a hunch the rest of the world might be. And he was right.
“The platform of YouTube allows you to reach the whole world,” says Sarit Ido Schecter, TuTiTu’s CEO. Schecter, also a new mother, was brought in one and a half years ago when the channel, which now boasts content in 12 languages (with more in the works), started experiencing massive growth.
Toddler-focused TuTiTu, which takes its name from the nickname Dahan’s wife gave their first-born, burst onto the scene at just the right time, Schecter says. Television was just beginning to liberate itself from the cable box to the mobile device, and YouTube, which has revolutionized the way we share content across borders, was still not quite a household name.
“TV was rich, and the Internet was poor, at the time,” she says. “But also, our viewers love that the series talks in a toddler’s language. You only hear one word, and it’s like a movie trailer – the children don’t know what will come.”
TuTiTu, Dahan adds, hit a sweet spot in the market, propelling into a bonafide global phenomenon. Despite the fact that the company’s production offices span a meager two rooms on Tel Aviv’s Ahad Ha’am Street, the series is now the most-watched children’s animation program on YouTube. A digital app, as well as a follow-up series for slightly older children, are not both in the works.
“We hit the right balance,” Dahan says. “The right rhythm, the right colors, and we came at the right moment when there was nothing – literally nothing – for toddlers on the Internet.”
TuTiTu content has yet to be made in Hebrew, Dahan and Schecter say, simply because they have been trying to produce videos in languages with the largest number of viewers. They do have Arabic-language videos, and often receive viewer feedback from parents in Arabic-speaking countries telling them how much they love the series.
Asked if those parents know the videos are produced by a team of Israelis living in Tel Aviv, Dahan says, “I don’t know. But we don’t hide it.”
YouTube used to list its videos countries of origin, and TuTiTu content was proudly labeled as Israeli. That feature has since been discontinued, but any visitor to TuTiTu’s channel who clicks on the “Contact Us” link will find a Tel Aviv address and Israeli phone number. The series may not yet speak Hebrew, but the nationality of its creators is in plain view.
For TuTiTu’s CEO and two co-founders, all parents of small children, the world of toddler songs and toddler talk has become all encompassing. “I hear it here and I hear it at home,” Schecter says. “I don’t even know what the grown-up world is anymore.”
Dahan, however, says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m doing what I really love doing,” he says. “For as long as I can remember, all I wanted was to do animation, and do something that I love. And I am.”