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Nick Looks to Extend Preschool Reign

Nickelodeon is putting into action a game plan to remain the most popular kid on the preschool cable playground.

Looking to solidify its dominant preschool content brands while keeping new competitors at bay, Nickelodeon Television’s toddler-targeted programming blocks -- Nick Jr. and Noggin -- this summer will unveil an aggressive multiplatform content-distribution strategy aiming at targeting viewers through a variety of technologies.

The new-media initiative will include launching a new Noggin-branded preschool video-on-demand service to complement its current Nick On Demand, which offers some Nick Jr. programming.

The network will also debut the highly anticipated spinoff of popular show Dora the Explorer on VOD one month before the show bows on Nickelodeon.

And the programmer will launch a new Noggin series simultaneously on both networks, as well as on the Internet.

Nickelodeon hopes to reach more of its core audience through other platforms while subtly firing a shot across the bow of competing upstart services from Comcast Corp. and Cartoon Network.

Nickelodeon TV’s dominant presence in the preschool-television arena is well established.

Nick TV is currently the most prolific distributor of preschool programming, offering more than 112 hours per week of original preschool programming across its Nick Jr., Nick, Noggin and “Nick on CBS” Saturday-morning lineups -- more than double that of competitors Playhouse Disney (49 hours) and PBS (38 hours).

Nick TV original shows also account for the top 10 most watched shows among kids 2-5 to date in 2005, according to Nick.

Overall, Nick Jr. and Nickelodeon programming has helped the network to a decade-long streak of consecutive first-place ratings finishes among basic-cable networks on a 24-hour basis.

Nick’s preschool dominance will be put to the test, though, later this year, when Cartoon launches its “Tickle U.” That preschool-programming block will air weekdays from 9 a.m.-11 a.m.

The Cartoon block will feature a collection of funny, animated series designed to encourage kids to laugh and have an optimistic view of themselves and the world around them.

Early next year, Nick will also have to contend with the linear-network launch of PBS Kids Sprout, a collaboration by Comcast and children’s content companies PBS, HIT Entertainment and Sesame Workshop.

A “PBS Kids Spout On Demand” service -- featuring popular shows Sesame Street, Barney & Friends, Caillou, Bob the Builder and Dragon Tales -- is currently up and running as part of Comcast’s free-VOD service.

Nick officials said Charter Communications Inc. will launch the new Noggin package in August as part of an overall deal between MTV Networks and the MSO. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

For more on Nick’s preschool plans, please see R. Thomas Umstead’s story on page one of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

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.