Nick Goes Out to 'Play’

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Fourteen countries, 750,000 registered participants, more than 1,000 events, and four networks and one Web site gone dark: Those are just a few of the statistical markers for the fourth annual “Worldwide Day of Play,” Nickelodeon’s child health initiative.

Scheduled this year on Sept. 29, the event is designed to combat childhood obesity by getting children off their duffs and outside to play. For the first time, all four Nick networks — Nickelodeon and digital networks Nicktoons, Noggin and Nick GAS — will go dark from noon to 3 p.m. ET/PT. Nick.com will join in, too.

INTERSTITIAL PLAYERS

When programming resumes with a SpongeBob SquarePants marathon, interstitials will feature Kenderick Scorza of North Little Rock, Ark., and April Zhang of Chalfont, Pa., two participants in the network’s “Let’s Just Play Go Healthy Challenge.”

The concluding episode of their saga premieres at 6 p.m. From 6:30 to 9 p.m., Nickelodeon will offer new episodes of its top programming, including the debut of Back to the Barnyard.

Nickelodeon has solicited viewers to go to its Web site and sign up for the health challenge, pledging to live more active, healthy lives. More than 750,000 viewers have done so.

Marva Smalls, Nick’s executive vice president of public affairs and chief of staff, said the number of registrants didn’t surprise her. Once youngsters are empowered with information, they’re like sponges and soak it up, she said.

They like being leaders in their own right, and they want to be a healthier generation, she added.

For the annual effort, Nickelodeon has worked with such pro-social organizations as the Big Brothers of New York City, which will stage a race for kids in Riverside Park. More than 3,000 kids are expected to participate in events including a 5K run/walk.

Another partner, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, will host 370 events in 50 states and seven countries expected to benefit 36,000 kids.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation (a partnership of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association) has scheduled more than 500 events, including a celebration at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark. for 6,000 children and families. Many of these events are co-sponsored by cable affiliates in local markets.

This year, Nickelodeon has drawn in the National Football League as a partner. Thirteen NFL franchises will hold events, including the Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins. Since April, interstitials in which NFL players offer workout tips have been available on the cable networks, with Nick on-demand content and via Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

AIRTIME DONATIONS

Nickelodeon has committed more than $30 million and 10% of its non-programmed airtime to health and wellness messaging. And during the last two years, the network has awarded $2.5 million in grants to schools and afterschool programs to provide resources that promote physical play.

Smalls said when she sees the impact of the program on kids like Kenderick, who went from sedentary to losing 40 pounds and completing in a triathlon, she realizes “we do have the ability to affect change.”

“I wish I’d joined Kenderick,” she joked.

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