With the assistance of kids who saw his plea for help in
early June, Noggin's animated character, "Phred," hopes to get back to Earth
from Pluto, where he's stranded.
On June 6, fledgling educational kids' network Noggin aired
a sneak preview of its new program block, The Phred on Your Head Show, on sister
channel Nickelodeon. During the sneak-peek premiere episode on Nick, Phred mistakenly got
sent to Pluto.
Phred urgently pleaded with viewers to visit Noggin.com and
send in their ideas to help get him back home to Earth by June 26, when Phred on Your
Head began airing weekdays on Noggin.
The Noggin preview on Nick did a phenomenal kids' rating,
and it generated record traffic on Noggin's Web site.
On average, more than 850,000 kids tuned into Phred,
generating a 2.2 Nielsen Media Research national rating. And more than 112,000 visitors
logged onto Noggin's Web site -- a 220 percent increase compared with the site's average
Sunday traffic. Phred also got almost 7,000 e-mails from kids that day.
Noggin is still getting e-mails from kids offering advice
to Phred -- the number is now up to more than 36,000 -- and traffic on its Web site is
still on the rise and hitting records.
Via Nick, which reaches more than 74 million homes, Phred's
message was able to reach a large audience. Distribution for Noggin, which is meant for
analog and digital carriage, is currently only 1.7 million homes, with 4 million projected
by year's end.
Noggin is just the latest in a crop of new, often digital
networks that are doing programming previews on their more widely distributed sister
services in order to build consumer awareness and their own distribution.
Digital network History Channel International aired a
special preview of four hours of its programming Sunday (July 18) on The History Channel.
Style, the fashion spinoff network from E! Entertainment
Television, has done several previews on E! -- one last Sept. 13 and another May 29,
Memorial Day weekend.
And Noggin not only aired its recent preview on Nick, but
it also ran one on another of its sister services, TV Land, in late April.
In that instance Noggin -- which is owned by Nick and
Children's Television Workshop -- aired a two-hour block of episodes of The Electric
Company that haven't been seen on national television in more than two decades.
Historically, programmers have aired brief promos for their
new networks on their veteran services. But today, programmers are walking a tightrope
when they use their established networks as promotional platforms to air hours-long
programming previews of their newer networks, many of which are meant for digital
On the one hand, programmers want to build consumer demand
for new networks. Therefore, they will often air 800 numbers during the previews so
viewers can call their cable systems to ask for the fledgling services.
On the other hand, programmers risk frustrating viewers --
and aggravating cable operators -- by touting networks that cable systems aren't carrying
and perhaps won't be carrying in the near future, depending on their timetables for
digital or plant upgrades.
"It is a fine line," Noggin general manager Tom
Ascheim said. "[Previews] are helpful methods for getting our message out
[but] you want to be respectful fundamentally of the audience and be doing a service, and
not just selling a product. We didn't run an infomercial for Noggin. But of course, we
hope previews build awareness of Noggin."
In the case of Noggin airing old Electric Company episodes
on TV Land, Ascheim noted that the ploy fit in with TV Land's programming strategy of
airing vintage TV shows.
And during that TV Land preview, Noggin told viewers to go
to Noggin's Web site for more information and advised them to call their cable operators
or direct-broadcast satellite providers to ask for the channel, without listing an 800
number. "It was a pretty low-key push," Ascheim said.
Pam Burton, Prime Cable's corporate director of marketing
and programming, said digital-network previews on analog channels work best when
programmers advise MSOs that they are planning them.
But because it is taking operators time to deploy digital
boxes, Burton said, the previews "can be a little confusing and frustrating for
customers if they can't get that network. It benefits all concerned if we work in concert
with each other. Going out and doing it without the blessing of the cable operator makes
it a little more contentious."
When E! aired its one-hour preview of Style, What Is
Style,last September, it asked viewers to dial 800-Get-Style and ask their
cable operators to carry the network.
Over a two-month period, Style logged more than 32,000
calls from viewers. And that figure didn't include calls that subscribers made directly to
their cable operators to request Style.
The biggest demand for Style came from major DMAs and
secondary markets, including New York; Los Angeles; Atlanta; Las Vegas; Indianapolis;
Hartford, Conn.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Kansas City, Mo.
Officials for Style and History Channel International
couldn't be reached for comment.
Discovery Networks U.S. hasn't depended on programming
previews for its digital networks, a company spokeswoman said, since it incubated many of
them on its analog channels.
For example, Discovery Kids started out as a morning
program block on Discovery Channel, while Discovery Wings Channel is a spinoff of
Discovery's Wings series.
Discovery officials said taking that approach is more in
sync with operators, rather than creating demand for digital channels that MSOs may not be
able to offer yet.