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On a Growth Spurt With Teens and Tots

Like a 2-year-old child outgrowing his clothing in what can seem like the blink of an eye, kids network Noggin/The N has shot up significantly over the last year.

The channel, which serves preschoolers from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and teenagers for the balance of the day, scored a 23% rise in its subscriber base last year, thanks to significant rollouts across its affiliate ranks. The addition of 8 million homes in 2004 leaves the network about 7 million shy of reaching another distribution plateau.

“Fifty million this year would be nice. It will be hard, but I think we can do it,” says executive vice president and general manager of Nickelodeon Digital Television Tom Acsheim.

The Noggin side of the channel launched in 1999, and The N debuted in 2002. Together, they’re relying on the leverage of the MTV Networks affiliate team. And they’re also offering a compelling tale that combines ratings growth with the strength of its companion Web sites, an expanding array of video-on-demand programming and — in the case of its older-skewing half — the potential for affiliates to run advertising within its programming.

Featuring Nick Jr. fare as well as series Miffy & Friends, Connie the Cow and breakout original series Oobi, Noggin scored double-digit growth against the 2-to-5-year-old set each month last year. That led to a 60% rise in ratings during 2004 overall, when compared with 2003, according to Nielsen Media Research data provided by the network.

Meanwhile, The N earned a 15% gain in the 12-to-17 demo in 2004, bolstered by the animated O’Grady, relationship series Best Friend’s Date, competition show Girls V. Boys and white-hot teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. Right now, The N skews heavily female — 70/30 — but Acsheim expects some recent acquisitions to bring in a few more guys.

The N will make its first significant push into VOD in late March, with an encore of miniseries Miracle’s Boys. And Noggin is increasing its VOD fare to the point where it has “virtually a 24-hour preschool channel,” Ascheim says. The companion Web site is graphics-rich and supports the network’s educational bent.

Much of the activity at centers, not surprisingly, on bulletin boards and chats. That has helped it attract 1 million unique users per month. The Noggin and N sites are accessed by “an enormous percentage of broadband users,” says Ascheim — a benefit to its affiliate partners.

The N began running limited commercials last May 28, and it recently added a dedicated sales team to build on the work done by the Nickelodeon group, which secured a number of deals within the personal care (the first ad appropriately enough was from Clearasil), electronics, studio and music/entertainment categories.

Currently, local avails are not offered, but as more MSOs add digitally insertable networks, Ascheim says that is “certainly something we would look at.”