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Digital Quest for Kids Heats Up

Oct 21, 2007  •  Post A Comment

This week Nickelodeon and Disney Channel will launch new online initiatives that speak both to the competitiveness of the kids digital realm and to the divergent strategies the networks are pursuing online.
Nickelodeon plans to introduce MyNoggin, a subscription online service with educational games for preschoolers and their parents, while Disney Channel intends to launch a mini-virtual world for its new preschooler show “Bunnytown,” premiering Nov. 10.
These efforts represent a microcosmic look into the two networks’ different approaches to digital. Nickelodeon is going after the broader kids demo, while Disney Channel is sticking to a brand-centric approach.
Their tactics are noteworthy because kids networks face a business imperative to move quickly in the digital business, since their consumers are nimble trendsetters.
“We want to be a bookmark destination,” said Steve Youngwood, executive VP of digital media at Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids & Family Group. “If we truly want to be an authority, to be on [a kid’s] short list, we have to be about the demo and not just the property.”
That’s why the ad-free MyNoggin service at Mynoggin.com isn’t connected to a particular Noggin show, though kids can interact with Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. characters such as Blue and Dora. Nick Jr. is the preschool programming block on Nickelodeon, while Noggin is a separate channel for preschoolers. The online subscription ranges from $5.95 to $9.95 a month.
This approach is similar to other online initiatives at Nickelodeon, which has concentrated its digital energy on gaming, community and virtual worlds. For instance, Nickelodeon owns the gaming site addictinggames.com, which draws 20 million unique visitors per month, according to ComScore. But that site, geared for teen and tween boys, includes both Nickelodeon games and games from other providers and users.
The network’s virtual world “Nicktropolis” in­cludes Nickelodeon properties, but also non-branded destinations such as an aquarium and a spookhouse. “More rooms are created by the audience than us,” Mr. Youngwood said.
Nickelodeon also is creating a virtual-world site, Addicting Worlds, that will be a portal for all of its virtual-world properties. “Our brand mission is to be a home base for kids. We still want to be consistent, but it doesn’t just mean a home base for SpongeBob,” Mr. Youngwood said.
That Nickelodeon is trying to provide a broader online experience is an “enlightened view,” said Greg Sterling, principal with Sterling Market Intelligence. “The Internet is more about openness, and the idea that you will be a walled garden doesn’t work.”
Disney Channel’s digital strategy, by contrast, is closely tied to its specific shows and properties, as evidenced by the launch this week of the Bunnytown mini-virtual world that will let kids create their own bunnies and play bunny-focused activities.
“We are very much focused on the brand because that is what the kids want, that is what they expect, and when we ask them what they want to see on the Disney site it’s the stars of the shows they love,” said Mindy Stockfield, VP of digital media at Disney Channel and Jetix.
The network has conducted re­search with kids and found that its viewers express an affinity for particular shows and brands. “By playing our games and being part of the content, it engages them so much they want to watch the show more,” she said.
In advance of the October launch of series “Wizards of Waverly Place,” Disney Channel created a sub-site in September. It was one of the three most visited sections on Disneychannel.com, demonstrating that a network can build buzz by focusing on its properties, Ms. Stockfield said.
The show premiered Oct. 12 with a 9.8 rating/2.4 million homes in the kids 6 to 11 demo, tops for its time period, Disney Channel said. It also was the top-rated series for the day on basic cable in total viewers with 5.9 million, Disney Channel said.
The Disney Internet Group also offers a subscription Internet product with educational games and materials for preschoolers priced at $9.95 a month or $49.95 per year. The service rolled out in January 2006.
The risk with a brand-centric strategy is it could restrict a network in the very fragmented online world, Mr. Sterling said. “To reach the users where they are, Disney doesn’t have to bring in content from other companies, but it sure has to push that content out to the places users are.”
Even so, Disney’s strategy seems to be working. Two of its properties—mdash;Hannah Montana and “High School Musical”—are among the most recognizable brands for kids.
Despite these moves, some ex­perts contend both networks need to move faster. “Children’s tastes are extremely fickle and evolve so much faster than any other age group, especially related to digital media,” said TS Kelly, senior VP/director of research and insight at Media Contacts, a division of Havas. “Disney and Nickelodeon both try to tap into these trends for marketers, but they need to move much faster, especially online. Though Nicktropolis and Disney’s recent acquisition of Club Penguin are positive signs, there needs to be much more of this.”
Cartoon Network, meanwhile, has pinned its online efforts on building the Cartoon Network brand. However, earlier this month the network launched its first non-branded online initiative with Mini Match, a social gaming network for kids. The site is accessible via Cartoonnetwork.com and on its own URL, playmini-match.com. The network will evaluate if a broader strategy fits its goals, said Paul Condolora, senior VP/general manager, new media, Cartoon.

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