Cable Operators

Kid Net Split Near

12/16/2007 7:00 PM Eastern

MTV Networks’ Noggin and The N are breaking up on Dec. 31 after five years of blissful co-existence. But unlike most divorces, MTVN executives said this split will actually benefit the kids.

Currently splitting time on one hybrid channel, the preschool-targeted Noggin and the evening, teen-oriented The N will look to better serve their core audiences on a 24-hour basis with new, original programming and acquired fare.

The additional programming hours are also expected to help the networks beat back competition: in Noggin’s case, from Comcast-owned PBS Kids Sprout; and for The N, from teen networks ABC Family, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network.

“The N senior vice president and general manager Sarah Tomassi-Lindman said, “Being 24 hours will really eliminate that barrier and allow us to really serve this teen audience anytime they’re home, including the summer when they’re home and after school.”

The N in particular will have the additional challenge of switching channel positions, replacing the 39.3 million-subscriber Nickelodeon Games and Sports for Kids (GAS) network on the cable dial. Including recent deals with satellite-TV providers DirecTV and Dish Network, The N will be in front of 63 million homes at launch.

Lindman said the network is working with operators to create message scrolls on the current Noggin/N channel as well as on-air guide alerts to signal viewers of the change.

Ultimately, The N’s success will live or die on the strength of its programming. The network will buttress its 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. lineup with off-Nickelodeon, teen-targeted series such as Keenan & Kel, Unfabulous and Just Jordan, as well as off-broadcast network sitcom acquisitions Saved by the Bell and That 70’s Show.

Much like its Noggin programming predecessors, Lindman said the 12-hour daytime block will remain commercial free, airing interstitial programming, music videos and show promos between programming breaks.

The network’s primetime block will feature in 2008 new episodes of its Degrassi: The Next Generation, as well as a TV movie and special based on the series. It will also return family-based drama South of Nowhere.

Also on the docket for the summer are two new reality series, Queen Bees — which follows the exploits of several “alpha-females” living under one roof — and The N’s Student Body, a teen-targeted fitness/well-living competition series hosted by professional boxer Laila Ali. In addition, a new scripted comedy series The Assistants, which follows the lives of four young assistants working for a Hollywood producer, will debut in late 2008.

Lindman said the shows should give the network the ammunition to compete against its main teen-targeted networks.

Executives from Disney, ABC Family and Cartoon Network declined to comment.

As for the commercial-free Noggin — which will retain the hybrid network’s 64 million subscribers — Noggin general manager Brown Johnson wants to fill a void she says exist in quality, pre-school content on television during the evening and late-night hours. Currently, the Comcast-owned, 35-million subscriber PBS Kids Sprout service offers 24-hour content aimed at toddlers, but Johnson said much of Sprout’s subscriber base watches the network’s programming via video on demand.

“I think that parents see Noggin as having the best programming for their pre-schoolers on TV, and the fact that it’s going to be on 24-hours is a real boon for them, particularly in prime time,” Johnson said.

Spout president Sandy Wax welcomes the competition.

“While we take it as a compliment that other are following suit and validating the concept, we’re not worried because Sprout is really different and unique,” she said.

So what’s Noggin’s programming strategy to reach sleepless toddlers? Johnson said the network’s new 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. evening/early morning block will feature such Nick Jr. hits as Backyardigans, Wonder Pets!, Little Bear and Max and Ruby.

In fall 2008, the network will debut 26-episode animated preschool series, Toot & Puddle based on the best-selling book series about the adventures of two adventurous pigs. The network has also greenlit second season of its first original animated series Pinky Dinky Doo.

October