Is new kids TV platform HEIHEI any good?

Whether your kids watch a little or a lot of television, it’s good to know where to find the best stuff. So is new kids platform HEIHEI worth a watch? Thalia Kehoe Rowden and her six-year-old son have decided to find out. Together, they’re watching all 39 shows, filling out an intimidating spreadsheet of notes, and reporting back to us.

In the first part of the series, Thalia gives us an overview of HEIHEI, and some highlights.

Last month there was suddenly a new ad-free online platform for kids’ TV programmes. For those of us who don’t watch actual TV anymore, this seemed to drop from the sky, a welcome meteorite of new viewing options for kids who have just about exhausted the good stuff on Netflix.

HEIHEI (which can mean ‘commotion’ as well as the perhaps more familiar ‘chicken’) is available online and through a free iOS and Android app (but not on actual television). It’s home to 39 TV shows (most made here in Aotearoa) and also a bunch of local games – often connected to a TV show – and audio content.

So, it’s free, there are no ads, and it’s mostly home-grown. Awesome!

But is it any good?

Chasing an answer to that question, my six-year-old son and I have made it our mission to watch every show on HEIHEI and report back. He can’t quite believe his luck, but it’s not just a carefree binge-fest. It’s a serious business. We even have a 12-column spreadsheet!

We’re keeping track of where the shows are from, whose stories they tell, whether they’re any good, and whether they’re as inclusive and socially-progressive as we feel entitled to expect in 2018.

I mean, I grew up with Smurfette as the only female character in The Smurfs and kids’ shows these days aren’t always much better than that. We’re hoping HEIHEI is heaps better than overseas kids’ channels for representation and inclusivity, and are evaluating all the shows by the Maisy Test.

After a very a busy week of watching at our house, we have managed to watch at least an episode of all the shows, and there are definitely some trends we can report.

Here’s the strongest one: the best shows on HEIHEI are the ones made in Aotearoa. All the lowest-rated shows on our spreadsheet are among the 14 international shows the network has bought from overseas, so you’re best to start with the local ones.

Unfortunately, you can’t do that at all if you are Deaf. Despite strong words about valuing inclusion, HEIHEI has launched before it has captioning or NZSL interpreting ready, which is hugely disappointing for Deaf kids and Deaf parents of hearing kids.

Apparently it’s in the plan for the future, as is the ability to connect with Apple TV, Chromecast and so on, which will be a blessing for any parent who doesn’t want to share their phone or laptop with the kids, or have them watching on a portable device of their own. Again, HEIHEI’s publicity emphasises its ‘safe, ad-free’ environment, but it’s hard to rest easy when kids are watching on an internet-connected device rather than just a screen.

I hope funders NZ On Air and TVNZ can find some extra change down the back of the couch to roll out these things ASAP, because most of the content is really good.

The network curators have done a good job of pulling New Zealand content together from all over the place. As well as plenty of old faves from TVNZ and Māori Television, like What Now?, The Moe Show, Māia the Brave and Kia Mau!, there are one-off web series like Reset, Jiwi’s Machines and Wild Eyes, and shows such as Young Ocean Explorers that have appeared as part of What Now? and now get their own home on HEIHEI. There are also some excellent new commissions that reflect Aotearoa well, like cartoon comedy Legendary Polynesia, cutie-pie Tamariki Takeover and cooking show Kai Five.

NZ on Air’s Diversity Report recently found that:

Asian creatives are under-represented across producer, director and writer/researcher roles. Just 3% of producers in 2018 were Asian (11.8% of NZers identify as Asian.)

My impression is that Asian and Pasifika kids are still under-represented in HEIHEI’s programming so I hope that can be rectified in the next round of commissioning.

I’m delighted to report that tamariki Māori of all ages can see themselves reflected on HEIHEI. There are heaps of shows with Māori hosts, from Māia the Brave and Kia Mau! to Wild Eyes. Several dramas and comedies have Māori stars, such as Wilde Ride, The Barefoot Bandits, Nia’s Extra Ordinary Life, Reset, and Darwin and Newts. Te reo Māori words and phrases appear as a matter of course in several of the English-language shows, He Rourou is almost entirely in te reo, and Kia Mau! is thoroughly bilingual. Nia’s Extra Ordinary Life is available to stream either in English or Māori. More, please!

The overseas programming is the weakest link, for sure, with most of the shows being unremarkable, male-dominated cartoons, best avoided. A notable exception is the fantastic 199 Little Heroes, a series of documentary snippets showing the morning routines of kids all over the world.

The international shows are definitely dragging down the average when it comes to sexist and white-centric programming on HEIHEI. Fully 14 out of 39 shows are strongly male-dominated, and another half-dozen that are uneven, in favour of male characters. By comparison just two shows on HEIHEI have more female characters than male. So that’s over half of the shows on HEIHEI that have more males than females. This is a problem, HEIHEI! It tells both boys and girls that boys’ experiences are more interesting and important than girls’ – this is not okay. It’s flipping 2018, for heaven’s sake!

A good half of the male-heavy shows are overseas ones – so why are we bothering to import them?

I would start by ditching the subscriptions to Transformers, Kaijudo, Peppa Pig (the body-shaming in that show gets it struck off the list for me) G-Fighters, Geronimo Stilton, and Pound Puppies, for starters. Perhaps HEIHEI could instead pursue some of the excellent stuff being produced around the world that stars even casts of boys and girls – there’s almost nothing in the current international line-up that fits that description.

I’d also love to see more local content from Māori Television and TVNZ finding an ad-free home on HEIHEI – we rarely watch TVNZ on demand in our house because of the ads, even in kids’ programming.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you a fuller run-down of the shows on HEIHEI: what’s worth watching on high rotate, and what you could just give a miss (or actively avoid, in a few cases).

We’re keen to hear from you, too! What are your faves so far? Any other feedback you want to share?

To whet your appetite, I’ll leave you with a clip from my six-year-old’s absolute favourite show on HEIHEI so far – he’s watched the entire series of shorts four times already.

It’s called Wild Eyes, and is a series of outdoorsy challenges, with a matching website where you can upload pics of your results. The activities are demonstrated by two very charismatic young presenters, Nova and Christian. Here’s the bivouac episode, for your viewing pleasure. More like this, please, HEIHEI!

Thalia Kehoe Rowden is a former Baptist minister and current mother and development worker. She writes about parenting, social justice and spirituality at Sacraparental.com.

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