New York -- MTV Networks this week will begin pitching a
package of 10 channels -- including its new educational kids' channel, Noggin, and
three additional Nickelodeon spinoffs -- as one digital tier to cable operators.
At a press conference here last week, MTVN officials
unveiled their plans to market Noggin -- a joint venture between Nick and Children's
Television Workshop -- and several other Nick networks as part of a package with "The
Suite," a group of six music-video networks from MTV: Music Television and VH1.
MTVN is expected to announce the other new Nick networks
that will be part of the digital tier at the National Show this week in Atlanta.
The 10 programming services will be carried on one MTVN
satellite transponder, according to MTVN president Mark Rosenthal, who added that the
package can be used by operators to help drive penetration of their digital set-tops.
"We think that there will be consumer demand," he
said. "You can take one transponder and offer what is a pastiche of three or four
Noggin, a 24-hour commercial-free educational channel aimed
at kids aged two to 14, will be available for both analog and digital distribution to
cable and satellite providers. The network, which will reportedly cost between $50 million
and $100 million to develop over the next four years, is set to launch in January.
Initially, Noggin's lineup will include programming
from Nick's and CTW's libraries, including 3,000 hours of Sesame Street,
as well as Blue's Clues, 3-2-1 Contact, TheElectric Company,
Gullah Gullah Island and Nick News. First-run episodes of Blue's
Clues and Sesame Street will continue to air on Nick and Public Broadcasting
"We want to make kids feel great about being
smart," Nick president Herb Scannell said. "We hope to make learning cool
through Noggin. And out of the gate, Noggin will have a strong preschool component."
After a year or so, Scannell and CTW president David Britt
said they hope to begin producing original programming for Noggin.
MSO programming officials were eager to see how Noggin -- a
concept that was first floated to cable operators more than a year ago, at last
year's National Show in New Orleans -- will shape up.
"Noggin is just great," said Jedd Palmer, senior
vice president of programming at MediaOne. "I certainly welcome it. CTW has a
fantastic library of educational programming. It's just terrific. It's a great
new product to help drive the digital revolution."
As for MTVN's plans to create a digital tier with 10
networks, including Noggin, Palmer added, "it's a compelling package. It's
a great family pod."
Noggin's license fee will range from 10 cents to 20
cents per month, per subscriber, depending on the level of distribution, with the low end
for analog and the high end for digital, according to MTVN officials.
Noggin and M2: Music Television, which is part of The
Suite, will be available as stand-alones either in analog or digital. The Suite will
actually launch July 31.
As for the other channels, officially, MTVN officials said,
they are being flexible, and operators can roll out any combination of the 10 services,
from one to all, on their digital-video platforms.
But pragmatically speaking, because of the technical
constraints of digital compression, operators won't be able to cherry-pick the
networks that they want to carry digitally. Cable systems will pretty much have to take
the whole MTVN pod, or go through a cumbersome and costly process to strip out the
individual networks that they want, wasting precious bandwidth in the process.
The license fee for carrying all 10 services will be
attractive, MTVN officials said.
Noggin will be the flagship of a group of new Nick
channels, according to Rosenthal. "MTV is focusing on Noggin as part of its foray
into the digital world," he said.
MTVN officials declined to comment further on the upcoming
Nick digital channels. But sources close to the company have said previously that Nick was
considering several ideas: a kids' comedy channel; a kids' game-show network;
and a channel for "tweens," or the older end of the network's demographic,
nine- to 12-year-olds.
For roughly three years, CTW has been trying to get a
kids' educational network off the ground, and it had reportedly talked to potential
partners such as News Corp. Talks with Nick reportedly started more than a year ago.
"We recognized that we were thinking the same
way," Britt said. "For both of us, it just seemed right."
Referring to the CTW partnership with Nick, a Cox
Communications Inc. spokesman said, "We look forward to seeing the results of that
He added, "Nickelodeon and MTV Networks have
established a very strong track record with Nickelodeon, and we are really looking forward
to seeing how that translates with this new service."
Ron Martin, chief operating officer for Buford Cable TV,
has rolled out digital, and he values having branded product, like the MTVN package,
available for digital.
"It's easier to sell if it's been branded on
analog," he said. "And it will be very efficient to pull that [MTVN 10-channel
package] down to the headend."
Noggin will operate as a separate company at Nick's
headquarters, and it will be managed by a committee with an equal number of officials from
Nick and CTW. That committee will name a CEO to run the new network.
And while The Suite was originally seven networks,
including M2, it has been scaled down by one. "MTV Indie," which would have
aired videos representing independent labels, has been scrapped because it was considered
duplicative of M2.
Viacom Inc. chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone was on hand
for the Noggin announcement, as were Blue from Blue's Clues and Oscar the
Grouch from Sesame Street.