By Debra Kaufman
Special to TelevisionWeek
Preschool programming is at the leading edge of new distribution platforms.
It started with Web sites, and for good reason. Not only are parents of preschoolers likely to be computer-literate, but so are their children. In fact, some toddlers are online by age 2½.
“We call it lapware,” Disney Channel Senior VP of Original Programming Nancy Kanter said. “They’re too small to sit at the computer on their own, but they sit on Mom’s lap and go online. They have an intuitive, instinctive grasp of the mouse-and they’re unafraid.”
Preschool programmers continue to build up their Web sites, offering more interactive games, puzzles, video and audio clips. The programmers look to the Web as another way to build awareness of and connection to a specific show. This year, for example, Noggin.com will feature several online activities inspired by the series “Jack’s Big Music Show,” including the Freeze Dance game, in which the child gets to decide when everyone freezes by clicking the space bar; a video jukebox that plays every video featured in the series; and a play-along game that give kids the chance to play music with Jack’s band by selecting and clicking on one of three instruments.
Programmers also draw parents to their Web sites by offering information and activities designed to help them engage with the shows and gather information on topics including child rearing, how to put on a birthday party and research on child development.
In May, based on research conducted by PBS, Web site PBSparents.org introduced new content areas, including a child development tracker, a book finder and PBS Parents Guide to Birthday Parties. New resources were added in August, including Parents Guides to Math, Creativity and Back-to-School. The proof of the pudding: Page views for July of this year surpassed 340 million.
Then there’s video-on-demand for the 2-to-5 crowd. PBS Kids Sprout started as an on-demand channel, premiering April 1 on Comcast markets with VOD service and in markets served by Insight Communications. The 24/7 channel offers access to programs such as “Barney,” “Thomas & Friends,” “Bob the Builder” and “Caillou” through a partnership among PBS, Sesame Workshop, HIT Entertainment and Comcast. It offers 50 hours of programs a month, with a quarter of the programs updated every two weeks.
Nickelodeon, Disney and Discovery Kids Channel also offer VOD.
“We think parents need that channel,” said PBS Kids Sprout VP of Programming Susan Carden, who noted the scarcity of preschool programming in the afternoon and evening. “It’s a great opportunity for parents to feel they can watch trusted TV programs anytime and anywhere, which is possible with the multiplatform approach. It’s also an opportunity for our partners to extend their brand.” The on-demand service recorded 5.7 million hits in July.
Broadband is also rearing its head on the preschool playground. Brown Johnson, executive creative director of Nickelodeon Preschool Television, said that “the numbers for Nick Jr. viewers who have broadband capabilities are much higher than the norm in our population.”
“Young parents are very technologically friendly,” she said.
Ms. Johnson said that after 6 p.m.-when Noggin and Nick Jr. are off the air-the VOD and broadband numbers spike. Nick will test the waters with another new media platform Sept. 6, when it launches “Go, Diego, Go!” on V Cast, the Verizon Wireless service for on-demand video on wireless handsets.
“We’re really putting our toe in the water of every single outlet we can think of,” Ms. Johnson said. “With ‘Diego,’ the multiplatform launch is a cool idea and an interesting way to test all these outlets. We’re throwing it all on the video wall and seeing what sticks.”