Noggin Adds Interactive Series

Attempting to provide a heavy interactive bent to its largely educational programming format, Noggin will bow a pair of new original shows that take advantage of the convergence between on-screen and Internet content.

Diginet Noggin will unwrap URL with Phred
— a spin-off of its Phred on Your Head
— this summer, and will bow Sponk!
this fall.

The moves are part of Noggin's effort to dispel the conventional wisdom that educational programming is not entertaining enough to attract pre-teens and young adults, Noggin general manager Tom Ascheim said. The service — a joint venture between Sesame Workshop and Nickelodeon — wants to tap into kids' desire to interact with the characters and shows on the network via the Internet.

"We really need to smell like entertainment, or else they'll go elsewhere," Ascheim said.

Currently in 16.8 million homes, Noggin is expected to reach the 20-million plateau by year-end, according to Ascheim. The network's convergence programming philosophy should further endear Noggin to MSOs seeking to expand its digital programming lineup, he added.

"We think that we're providing operators with real value and giving them something to sell in digital to the home," said Ascheim.

The network will debut the kids' interactive game show Sponk!, beginning in September. A cross between the popular primetime ABC show Whose Line Is It Anyway
and Nickelodeon's Double Dare, Sponk!
pits two teams against each other in several head-to-head improvisational games, Ascheim said. Viewers can interact with the show by weighing in with comments at

Home viewers can also join one of the two online Sponk!
teams and play an interactive, improvisational online tournament, with scores posted on the television show.

"This is the first original production for the network from Sesame Workshop," Ascheim said. Also tying in with the Web site is URL with Phred, a one-hour skein that will feature the pickle-like Phred character showcasing electronic mail messages, artwork and other computer-generated responses that viewers download to the site, Ascheim said.

The new shows join Noggin's original roster, which also includes: Walk In Your Shoes, in which two kids switch places to experience each other's lives and cultures; Big Kids, which explores the experiences of parents and kids when they reverse roles; and On The Team, a reality/documentary series focusing on the trials and tribulations of a co-ed youth baseball team.

Those series also constitute the network's "Hubbub" block of primetime interactive programming. Kids who watch those shows can simultaneously chat and or take part in online polls at, then see their comments scrolling live on the screen during interstitials or immediately following each show during the two-hour block.

"The convergent technology used during 'Hubbub' allows kids to participate in their own media, enhancing both its entertainment and educational value," Ascheim said.

With the new shows and their encore presentations, original programming will make up 40 percent of Noggin's overall lineup. The network also features classic Sesame Street episodes and shows from Nickelodeon's "Nick Jr." block.

"Some of the criticism about digital has been that the programming features a lot of retread shows," Ascheim said. "We feel comfortable that our network provides quality original product for digital cable."

To attract kids during school-free summer afternoons, the commercial-free network will offer a daily, three-hour block, sans any promotional messages, beginning June 18.

In addition to the aforementioned original shows, the block will also include the former CBS series The New Ghostwriter Mysteries
and CRO, an animated series that explores the Ice Age.

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.