Cable operators have hailed Noggin the
commercial-free educational kids' channel that Nickelodeon and Children's Television
Workshop are launching this week as a concept that they love. But they're not
jumping on board early to carry it.
Their inaction is another testament to how tough an
environment it is today to kick off a new programming service, digital or otherwise.
Noggin will debut Tuesday (Feb. 2) in an estimated 1.5
million to 2 million homes, according to general manager Tom Ascheim. Most of those
subscribers more than 1.3 million are through a carriage deal with EchoStar
Communications Corp.'s Dish Network direct-broadcast satellite service.
Noggin built on the educational libraries of Nick
and CTW and their episodes of shows such as Sesame Street, Electric Company
and Blue's Clues also has affiliation deals with Southern New England
Telecommunications Corp.'s SNET Americast and GTE Corp.'s GTE Americast.
Noggin will roll out without affiliation agreements with
any of the major digital-video platforms now being rolled out Tele-Communications
Inc.'s Headend in the Sky, Time Warner Cable's AthenaTV and Cox Communications Inc.'s
But Nicole Browning, executive vice president of affiliate
relations and marketing for MTV Networks, said MTVN isn't focused on what Noggin's
distribution is at launch, since it's being positioned mainly as a digital service, and
digital set-tops have such limited penetration now.
"We're not looking at what we'll be launching
with," Browning said. "It's a different paradigm. It's not a mark of success or
lack of success for us. Noggin is positioned as a digital service and, over time, we'll be
getting the distribution."
Noggin which will cost $50 million to $100 million
to program over the next four years is coming to market as the kids' TV arena is
growing increasingly competitive.
Today (Feb. 1), Home Box Office was set to relaunch its
multiplex, HBO Family, with $18 million of original programming, including three new
children's shows: A LittleCurious,Crashbox and 30x30:Kids
Last month, PBS unveiled its plan for PBS Kids Channel, a
24-hour commercial-free digital channel for its TV stations.
And Turner Broadcasting System Inc., in a major turnabout
of its past strategy, is weighing a plan to create a digital spinoff of Cartoon Network,
according to sources familiar with its plans.
Turner may want to counter Disney Channel's Toon Disney,
which is nearly one year old. Although Turner has put together a blueprint for a digital
network based on its huge libraries of animated programming, it's unclear whether it will
proceed, these sources said.
While most of the media giants have dived into creating
digital networks, Turner has resisted, reportedly because Time Warner Inc. vice chairman
Ted Turner doesn't believe that it's a viable business for a programmer.
A Turner spokesman declined to comment on any purported
plans for a digital cartoon network. He also wouldn't comment on a report in Media Week
that Turner is planning to launch a regionalized version of TBS Superstation.
Back at MTVN's parent, Viacom Inc., Noggin and M2: Music
Television are the anchors of a digital package of nine networks that MTVN is offering,
along with "The Suite" of music video services, on its own transponder. The
ninth digital service, Nickelodeon GAS -- Games and Sports for Kids, debuts March 1.
According to Browning, cable operators can take one, some
or all of the nine digital services, depending on their needs.
"You can take any of the services as a
stand-alone," she added.
However, one cable operator, who didn't want to be named,
noted that if a system dedicates 6 megahertz to The Suite's transponder feed, it would be
inefficient and a waste of bandwidth to then carry only one of the nine services.
That operator also complained about the pricing on Noggin
and its bundling with the other Suite services. As a commercial-free network, Noggin's
revenue stream will come from license fees from operators, although it eventually plans to
sell PBS-type sponsorships.
MTVN maintained that its pricing for its digital package
and Noggin is competitive and fair. Generally speaking, Noggin's rate card is eight cents
to 20 cents per month, per subscriber, with the lower end for analog carriage and the
higher one for digital tiers, Browning said. For those taking all nine MTVN services on
digital basic, Noggin included, the rate is 35 cents per month, per subscriber, or less
than a nickel per network, she added.
Ron Martin, chief operating officer of Buford Television
Inc., said he's considering Noggin for his digital packages.
"It's heavily branded, and you'd better believe that
it's going to be heavily cross-promoted," Martin said.
Noggin has been talking to HITS about getting carried on
its transponder 5 which is carrying branded digital networks such as Lifetime Movie
Network, Toon Disney and The Biography Channel according to Ascheim.
A TCI spokeswoman said, "We are looking at it for our
digital tier. We think that it provides good value."
Noggin will launch with four hours per day or original
At the Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena.
Calif., last month, Ascheim said, "Short-form helps us to build an environment that
weaves our library together, that talks directly to our audience and that helps to build
"Short-form is also a development lab, and in 1999,
we'll launch 10 distinctive interstitial series from which we will build long-form shows
for the year 2000 and beyond," he added.
On its debut day, Noggin was set to air the original
premiere episode of Sesame Street which hasn't been seen in 30 years
as well as the premiere episode of Electric Company, Ascheim said.