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Nick to Split Noggin and The N

Message to preschoolers, tweens and teens: Nickelodeon has a 24-hour network just for you.

The TV programmer for kids plans to split its hybrid Noggin/The N channel into two channels, beginning Dec. 31: Noggin and The N. That will give the Viacom-owned programmer separate channels aimed at toddlers and tweens/teens.

Nickelodeon hopes the distinct toddler-targeted Noggin and tween/teen-oriented The N channels — along with its core Nickelodeon service, its boy-targeted Nicktoons animated service, and its TurboNick and Web sites — will better position parent MTV Networks to dominate the children's television market.

“We have a programming strategy going forward that says we have an opportunity to preserve our three core audiences of kids: One is 2-to-5-year-olds, the second is the core 6 to 11 kids and the last is the teens,” said Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group.

Splitting off The N will help beat off competition from Disney Channel, which has become the most popular primetime network among tweens and teens, based on such widely popular programming in the past two years as High School Musical and Hannah Montana. The move also pits Noggin directly against PBS Kids Sprout, a joint venture of Comcast, PBS, Sesame Workshop and HIT Entertainment, which is the only nationally distributed basic-cable channel to offer preschool content on a 24-hour basis.

“I think Nickelodeon has one of the most recognizable brands, and for a period of time they were the dominant player in this marketplace — now Disney has given them some competition,” said Katz Television Media Group vice president and director of programming Bill Carroll said. “I think it makes sense that, if you have the ability to create a network with a specific niche, to go in that direction.”

Noggin and The N today operate in different time blocks on a single channel, which reaches 60 million subscribers.

Noggin, which features toddler-targeted, live-action series like Oobi and Jack's Big Music Show — as well as popular animated series like Dora the Explorer, which also runs during Nickelodeon's “Nick Jr.” morning programming block — will retain the current Noggin/N channel slot.

The N, which has targeted 14-to-17-year-olds with such original teen-targeted dramas as Degrassi: The Next Generation and Beyond the Break, will replace the 58 million-subscriber GAS games-and-sports oriented network on the cable dial, according to Denise Dahldorf, executive vice president for MTVN content distribution and marketing.

Which means each of the two networks should be in at least 60 million households at launch, according to Dahldorf. “Everyone we've talked to — cable, telephone companies, DirecTV — they're all very excited about the move, because it gives them two platforms of great content targeting two demos that aren't being serviced right now,” she said.

That reach puts Noggin way ahead of Sprout, which is found in less than 25 million cable homes. Zarghami said the network “is not on our radar at the moment.”

Added Dahldorf: “Viewers have been looking for longer hours for Noggin content – we see VOD usage spikes for that content as soon as Noggin stops its pre-school content,” Dahldorf said. “I think they're very excited about getting a whole day of content targeted to young children.”