Verizon Tunes In 'SpongeBob' Game On FiOS TV

Call him SpongeBob WidgetPants.

Verizon, in partnership with Viacom's MTV Networks, is letting FiOS TV subscribers access a "widget" with four games featuring the popular undersea sponge and his cronies. The widget deployed nationally July 12 on FiOS.

The app, built by New York-based interactive TV developer Ensequence, can be used only when viewers are tuned to Nickelodeon or Nicktoons. The games appear on the left-hand side of the screen, while the live TV plays in a window on the right.

If a FiOS user accesses the SpongeBob widget while watching another channel, the live TV window displays a static message that says, "Press 'C' to watch Nick" and the games cannot be played until the set-top is tuned to Nick or Nicktoons.

"It's our way to keep people tuned in to the networks," MTVN vice president of partner marketing Julia Reese said. "We're always looking to acquire new viewers, and we think it's a great retention tool."

The current SpongeBob SquarePants widget games are: a mix-and-match game that lets viewers combine the tops, middles and bottoms of the show's characters; an image-shuffle puzzle; a memory game that requires users to match corresponding tiles; and tic-tac-toe, which can be played in one- or two-player mode.

Verizon approached MTVN about developing something for the FiOS widget platform, which is based on Lua, an embeddable open-source scripting language. MTVN has committed to keeping the SpongeBob game up for at least one year, Reese said. The programmer has the ability to interchange the features on a regular basis to introduce different elements.

Verizon is promoting the widget with an integrated spot that includes a basic tutorial of how to access it. In addition, the telco is telling customers about the game via e-mail blasts and banner ads on its sites. The widget itself carries no advertising.

Asked whether MTVN is talking to other affiliates about offering the game, Reese said for the time being it's exclusively on FiOS but that the programmer is open to working with other operators as well.

Ensequence previously has developed other apps for FiOS TV, including one for Showtime Networks' mixed-martial arts programming and for NBC Universal's 2010 Winter Olympics coverage.