TVNZ's new streaming service has one key aim: to increase the amount of Kiwi content available to kids. Chris Schulz and Karl Puschmann investigate.

Ask Amie Mills why Kiwi kids need to see themselves on TV, and she'll pause, apologise for pausing, then say this: "I lose words when I think about how important it is."

Mills, the children's commissioner for TVNZ, explains her loss of words with a shocking piece of research: "We've had some fascinating conversations with teachers. They're astounded by how many children are turning up to school aged 5 with American accents."

Kiwi kids starting school with American accents? What gives? How does this happen? By watching too many American TV shows via American streaming services, that's how.

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A scene from Fanimals.
A scene from Fanimals.

Heihei hopes to change all that. The NZ On Air-funded online streaming service launches next week with the express aim of increasing the amount of New Zealand-orientated content available to kids.

It's ad-free, features shows that use New Zealand people, place names and te reo, and uses Kiwi kids or characters wherever possible.

Mills believes that's an important mandate to follow.

"I can't think of anything more important as a child growing up to see and hear yourself (on screen)," she says.

"My hope is that we've got kids reconnecting with New Zealand stories, places, sounds, and we build up that love of local content."

Amie Mills, TVNZ's children's commissioner.
Amie Mills, TVNZ's children's commissioner.

Heihei lives up to that statement by launching with 50 shows, 38 of which are made locally.

They range from live action shows like Fanimals and The Moe Show, to animated cartoons Barefoot Bandits and Darwin and Newts.

Mills says Kiwi content has always been created here, but often gets lost across various streaming platforms.

Heihei, she says, is the first to bring it all together.

Aimed at 5- to 9-year-olds, it's not just a television streaming service, offering games and stories that are often related to other shows on the platform.

"It's a gateway for parents so they can find other things that are great for kids," she explains.

While some international shows are in the mix, like Peppa Pig, Mills says they'll be watching their performance closely to see if they resonate as much as local ones.

"Do kids fiend off those? Do they need to be part of the mix? We spent a lot of time finding content that wasn't just straight American content. We just want it to feel a bit more high quality," she says.

So far, the feedback for Heihei has been positive, and a presentation to 90 content creators last week went well.

"Producers were saying, 'It feels like we've been given a new lease of life here to make content for kids in the digital age that we haven't been able to do with the constraints of linear TV'," she says.

But Mills believes the best is yet to come, with new shows broadening Heihei's offerings commissioned throughout the rest of the year.

"We don't have a kids news show, what does that look like?" she asks. "I can't wait for it to be out there so we can look at the stats ... and get involved with schools and teachers.

"There's a vision we can work towards. It feels like this platform gives longevity to kids content now."

FIVE OF THE BEST
The Moe Show
New Zealand's answer to Sesame Street is ostensibly made for kids but that hasn't stopped it garnering a devoted cult fan base of adults who dig the wry comedy stylings. If you monitor screen time with your child, then this is a safe bet to keep you both entertained.

Barefoot Bandits
This show about three kids exploring their neighbourhood and investigating mysteries is another crowd pleaser. The animated adventures of Tane, Fridge and Riley aims to capture the spirit of growing up in New Zealand and the all-star voice talent includes Josh Thomson, Laura Daniel, Rhys Darby and Temuera Morrison.

Maia the Brave
To paraphrase Batman's Commissioner Gordon, Maia is the superhero we need right now. These short ten-minute-long episodes are a mix of live action and animation that aim to empower and educate younger viewers about the world around them in a fun way.

What Now
The perennial kids favourite is still going strong and its popularity shows no signs of waning. Full episodes are available now and they're promising kids that there's loads more gunge, slime and foam on the way.

Kai Five
Kai Five makes cooking child's play. So if you've got a budding Gordon Ramsay on your hands, though hopefully without the potty mouth and anger management issues, then this cooking show is for them. They'll learn kitchen tips and tricks as well as learning how to whip up a feed using only four ingredients, things like sushi, nachos, broccoli bites and vegan pancakes.


LOWDOWN
Who: TVNZ Children's Commissioner Amie Mills
What: Kids TV streaming platform Heihei
Where and when: www.heihei.co.nz from May 28