Message to preschoolers, tweens and teens: Nickelodeon has a 24-hour network just for you.
The TV programmer for kids plans to split its hybrid Noggin/The N channel into two channels, beginning Dec. 31: Noggin and The N. That will give the Viacom-owned programmer separate channels aimed at toddlers and tweens/teens.
Nickelodeon hopes the distinct toddler-targeted Noggin and tween/teen-oriented The N channels — along with its core Nickelodeon service, its boy-targeted Nicktoons animated service, and its TurboNick and Nick.com Web sites — will better position parent MTV Networks to dominate the children's television market.
“We have a programming strategy going forward that says we have an opportunity to preserve our three core audiences of kids: One is 2-to-5-year-olds, the second is the core 6 to 11 kids and the last is the teens,” said Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group.
Splitting off The N will help beat off competition from Disney Channel, which has become the most popular primetime network among tweens and teens, based on such widely popular programming in the past two years as High School Musical and Hannah Montana. The move also pits Noggin directly against PBS Kids Sprout, a joint venture of Comcast, PBS, Sesame Workshop and HIT Entertainment, which is the only nationally distributed basic-cable channel to offer preschool content on a 24-hour basis.
“I think Nickelodeon has one of the most recognizable brands, and for a period of time they were the dominant player in this marketplace — now Disney has given them some competition,” said Katz Television Media Group vice president and director of programming Bill Carroll said. “I think it makes sense that, if you have the ability to create a network with a specific niche, to go in that direction.”
Noggin and The N today operate in different time blocks on a single channel, which reaches 60 million subscribers.
Noggin, which features toddler-targeted, live-action series like Oobi and Jack's Big Music Show — as well as popular animated series like Dora the Explorer, which also runs during Nickelodeon's “Nick Jr.” morning programming block — will retain the current Noggin/N channel slot.
The N, which has targeted 14-to-17-year-olds with such original teen-targeted dramas as Degrassi: The Next Generation and Beyond the Break, will replace the 58 million-subscriber GAS games-and-sports oriented network on the cable dial, according to Denise Dahldorf, executive vice president for MTVN content distribution and marketing.
Which means each of the two networks should be in at least 60 million households at launch, according to Dahldorf. “Everyone we've talked to — cable, telephone companies, DirecTV — they're all very excited about the move, because it gives them two platforms of great content targeting two demos that aren't being serviced right now,” she said.
That reach puts Noggin way ahead of Sprout, which is found in less than 25 million cable homes. Zarghami said the network “is not on our radar at the moment.”
Added Dahldorf: “Viewers have been looking for longer hours for Noggin content – we see VOD usage spikes for that content as soon as Noggin stops its pre-school content,” Dahldorf said. “I think they're very excited about getting a whole day of content targeted to young children.”
DOUSING THE MOUSE
The 12 to 17 teen market is crowded — making it tougher for The N to stand out.
Year-to-date, Disney Channel — on the strength of such shows for tweens as Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody — averages an industry-high 962,000 tween and 497,000 teen viewers in primetime.
In comparison, The N to date averages 55,000 and 63,000 9 to 14 and 12 to 17 viewers, respectively. In fact, The N doesn't finish in the top 10 of either category, even falling behind sister services and MTV and Nick at Nite.
But Zarghami says Noggin has a greater focus on teens in primetime than Disney, which she said draws teens through its tween programming.
“[Disney] may have a crossover in audience, but not because of brand positioning,” she said. “Disney really is capturing teens with tween programming, but I think what the N does is actually make programming that is very focused on that high school, almost-grownup period.”
While Disney may be the leader in the market, Carroll said Nickelodeon has strong brand awareness to make a run at the mouse house.
“Disney is pretty much perceived to be the leader, but there's an opportunity and Nickelodeon continues to be a solid brand, so now they can try to deliver [kids] from Noggin, to Nickelodeon to The N,” he said.
Dahldorf also said operators are very interested finding vehicles to reach the teen audience, since they're among the most tech-savvy of viewers. An example: the network last year teamed with Time Warner to create an interactive poll around an episode of Degrassi. She said 40% of viewers watching Degrassi voted using their remote control, about three times the regular usage take for Time Warner interactive efforts.
“The teen audience is really an important audience for our affiliates to innovate and partner with right now because that's the audience using all the new technology — the music, interactive and all the bells and whistles — that our partners are developing.”
Zarghami said Noggin will remain commercial-free, but will continue to feature sponsorships from such companies as Johnson & Johnson during the day. She didn't rule out however, the potential of advertising during Noggin's primetime hours, when parents are more likely to be watching along with kids.
“If it starts working really well, then I think we can talk about the [advertiser] position,” she said. “Right now we don't know what the answer is, but I think that at least keeping the daytime commercial free is a commitment that we're pretty clear on.”
On the N front, the network will feature during its daytime hours such hits as “TeeNick,” which includes such tween-targeted programming as Drake and Josh, The Amanda Show, All That and The Nick Cannon Show before resuming its nighttime block of originals, as well as such off-network acquisitions as Laguna Beach and The Hills.
Nickelodeon is hoping that housing both tween and teen-targeted programming on one network will create a natural programming flow that will keep viewers on the network for a longer period of time.
“As we super-serve tweens in the daytime, it'll flow evenly into our teen brands that we've been building over the past five years,” she said.
And Nick hopes that, in turn, more tweens and teens will flow to the network.