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Netflix is betting on ‘90s kids nostalgia for learning with upcoming lineup

Carmen Sandiego, Magic School Bus and more


With the recent announcement that Netflix is working on a new, animated version of Carmen Sandiego, it’s become clear the streaming service is betting big on ‘90s kids’ nostalgia for the educational shows of their childhood

Carmen Sandiego isn’t the first show Netflix has announced its reviving. In January, Netflix confirmed it was moving ahead with a modern version of The Magic School Bus, another popular children’s series that ran between 1994 and 1997. The show will star Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon as the voice of the zany, extraordinary teacher who leads her class on their adventures, Ms. Frizzle.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Last August, Netflix announced it had acquired the rights to Bill Nye the Science Guy, a popular children’s series about science that ran between 1993 and 1998. The company confirmed it had plans to move forward with a new show starring the scientist, called Bill Nye Saves the World, that would essentially be like a version of his original series but changed slightly for a more modern, streaming audience.

Between the three shows, and other series that Netflix is rumored to be interested in, there’s no question that the company is looking to kill two birds with one stone. It can add to its lineup of children’s shows and educational programs, something that content officer Ted Sarandos has talked about doing for years, while also earning some interest from those who watched these series while growing up and going to school.

During a press conference last summer, Sarandos said that Netflix wanted to double down on kids and family programming, taking a portion of the $6 billion it had set aside for original content and pouring it into series for kids.

“Netflix is building a slate that today's kids will grow up loving,” Sarandos said.

While new iterations of Carmen Sandiego, The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy will surely appeal to a new generation of kids, there’s also the nostalgia factor that Netflix isn’t willing to give up on just yet. Both Sarandos and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings have talked about how important it is for the company to acquire the rights to series that people already know and love; shows they’re willing to invest their time in again and stream.

This is why there’s a new Gilmore Girls show and a new version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Netflix knows there’s a large group of subscribers who will buy into the company’s original series, but who also want to watch the series they grew up with. That’s why Netflix paid a hefty fee to be able to carry Friends, and it’s exactly why Netflix will continue to invest in programs that feed the nostalgia beast.

By acquiring the rights to series that are no longer on the air and essentially turning them into Netflix originals, the streaming service is able to continue to try and hit its goal of being the go-to network for kids and family-friendly television content that ‘90s kids will also know. Shows like Carmen Sandiego aren’t going to premiere until 2019, but Netflix is thinking about how it can satisfy the needs of all its subscribers as the company matures and its audience grows.

How successful this will end up being for Netflix is unclear — and it’s possible we may never know since Netflix famously doesn’t release ratings. But Netflix must see a future in nostalgic, educational television. The only question left is what series Netflix will bring back next.

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