Dowloadable TV Gets Animated

Kids who can’t get enough of SpongeBob SquarePants can now download episodes from the Internet to watch on a portable media player.

Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are the latest cable content providers to offer fee-based program downloads via the Internet. Both reached deals last week to license such shows as Jimmy Neutron and Codename: Kids Next Door to toymaker Hasbro’s new Vugo multimedia system.

From the Vugo Web site (, Nickelodeon will make available for $2.99 full-length episodes from such series as, Danny Phantom, Unfabulous, Romeo!, Rugrats, Rocket Power and Teenage Robot. For the same price, Cartoon will provide installments from such skeins as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Dexter’s Laboratory, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Ed, Edd 'n’ Eddy and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy.

Terms of the deal, including per-purchase revenue splits, were not disclosed.

Nickelodeon Television president Cyma Zarghami said the deal is the network’s latest foray into alternative distribution platforms, following the July launch of its video-rich

For Cartoon, the deal provides an opportunity to reach its tween audience, which Hasbro is taking aim at with its new player.

“This is a product that’s targeted to the sweet spot of our audience,” said John Friend, senior vice president of Cartoon Network Enterprises. “This product is really set up and designed for kids 6 to 14, so it goes after kids watching the channel.”

While the $120 price tag for the Vugo player, sporting a 3-inch screen, is far cheaper than the $299 to $399 cost of Apple Computer Inc.’s video iPod player, kids — or their parents — will have to pay more for the animated episodes.

The Walt Disney Co. shows like Desperate Housewives and That’s So Raven cost $1.99 per download on the iPod. DirecTV Inc and NBC Universal are offering same-day downloads of shows like Monk for 99 cents, as are CBS and Comcast Corp. for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

But senior vice president of entertainment products for Nickelodeon and Viacom consumer products Stephen Youngwood said the higher per-episode price will most likely be offset by the relatively low cost of the player.

“The feeling is the player is much more affordable even though the content is more expensive,” he said. “Time will tell what matters.”

The hand-held Vugo Multimedia System, developed by Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics unit, features a 128-Megabit hard drive, which can hold up to about an hour of video programming, although the capacity can be expanded via a memory card.

Along with downloading programming from the computer using a standard universal serial bus connection, the portable player can also record TV programs directly from the set, which Youngwood admitted was a “concern” with regard to content purchases.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.