Kids television is a lush playground for both programmers and viewers. But for the longest time, networks have been lackadaisical in supporting their programs on the Net, with sites usually offering only mild amusement and light content.
Well, things have certainly changed, so we’ve decided to do our first new media head-to-head match to see how the chips are stacking up.
The first two contenders are NBC’s site for its TNBC Saturday morning lineup, At the Max (www.atthemax.com), and Fox Kids Cyberstation (www.foxkids.com). Let the sparring begin!
From the outset, it’s glaringly obvious that we are dealing with two different approaches to grabbing the attention of the younger set. But if first impressions count for everything, then this round has to go to Cyberstation, for a smashing opener that grabs your attention when a a UFO full of Space Goofs lands on your screen. Exploding colors with a splash of sound are mouth-watering stuff. But Cyberstation is all about candy optics first and content second, with lots of flash supplied by Shockwave applications, as well as audio support for activity that blazes across your screen.
By comparison, At the Max is a little less robust. Although the home page has plenty of color and a smidgen of action, it doesn’t captivate you in the same way. It has plenty to offer, like a chat room; contests, quizzes and surveys; and an intriguing 10-second ad that pops up when you arrive at the home page and stays on-screen just long enough to let you to read it and make a mental reference to a banner ad on the home page. It would be great if it were a different promo every time.
In all fairness, the target audiences of the two aren’t identical. At the Max is aimed at a slightly older visitor, featuring NBC shows such as Hang Time and Saved by the Bell: The New Class, and Cyberstation is targeted at the younger set through a stable of Fox Kids programs that includes Sam & Max, Eerie, Indiana: The New Dimension and the show named after the precious metal slider, Silver Surfer.
Pushing past the more traditional offerings like the chat room, we found an outstanding survey section on At the Max. Quizzes for shows such as City Guys ask questions like, ‘Are you a control freak?’ And then-and here’s the best part-an attached RealVideo clip shows how characters from the show responded to the same questions. Brilliant idea.
Cyberstation fights back with multiple Shockwave applications that give you motion-driven profiles of characters from various shows, such as Sam & Max, complete with the sirens. It’s all very seamless, with no hiccups or choking. This is pretty much the closest you’re going to get to full-motion content for the time being, but it works. Cyberstation even uses full-motion content in the contest section, and it must be said, the sounds accompanying each page add awesome support.
Round two is a bit of a knockout really, with Cyberstation walking all over the Peacock. One point should be deducted though for the fact that Cyberstation uses QuickTime downloads for its Ninja Turtles video content. How early `90s of it, especially with all of the headaches associated with downloading large files.
When all is said and done, At the Max derives a lot of strength-at least in the new media context-from its supporting cast of advertisers and sponsors. Talk City, which hosts the At the Max chat sessions, presents chats with a major celebrity every night of the week. The link to onnow.com takes you to a comprehensive guide of live on-line events, and a promo with Dr. Pepper offers visitors sound, wallpaper and screensaver downloads.
Fox, by comparison, relies on its own truckload of properties to flex its muscles, and pulls out a lot of stops in promoting them. Cyberstation has all the tricks as far as sound and motion, although those QuickTime video downloads are as flat as old ginger ale.
Although both sites have significant merit in their content, all things being equal, Cyberstation hits harder. If these two were cars, At the Max would be a minivan and Cyberstation a sports utility vehicle-both get you to the desired destination, but one is a little more flamboyant than the other. On the autobahn that is new media, you need to be completely up to speed or you’ll be left behind.
Next month, ‘The Cyber Space’ looks at innovations in new media.
Greg Skinner is the director of Mina, a market intelligence company with expertise in the youth market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked him to do some browsing on our behalf and report on the latest developments in new media and how these innovations are having an impact on the kids entertainment industry. If you have any suggestions or ideas for topics you’d like to see in ‘The Cyber Space,’ please contact Greg Skinner at 416-504-6800 (phone), 416-504-4054 (fax) or firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).