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Connecting to kids beyond the TV

It's called Children's Television Workshop because it started out as a TV entity, but CTW learned early on that it was important to connect with kids and parents in as many ways as possible. Today, in addition to its TV programs,...
November 1, 1998

It’s called Children’s Television Workshop because it started out as a TV entity, but CTW learned early on that it was important to connect with kids and parents in as many ways as possible. Today, in addition to its TV programs, it publishes six magazines, has more than 600 book titles in its publishing library, has a strong CD-ROM and home video presence and has redesigned its Web site to create what it hopes will be a significant on-line vehicle to instruct families how to make the most of the Internet.

What were originally looked to as extensions of CTW’s TV products are now looked to as media that can introduce creative concepts in their own right. ‘In the past, we’ve always looked at television as the first place and the other media as those to follow,’ says Nina Link, group president of publishing and new media at CTW. ‘Now, we’re looking at the best ways to nurture a property and [determine] whether it’s a big enough idea to give full exposure over the various media we work in.’

Sesame Street Magazine, first published in 1969, is now one of six CTW publications, with a total combined monthly readership of more than 12 million children and adults (the other publications are Sesame Street Parents, Kid City, Contact Kids, Creative Classroom and Padres de Sesame Street, a quarterly). The company is testing a magazine targeted to parents of infants. The publications are designed so that when kids outgrow one, they graduate to the next, in order to have a print interactive experience from preschool to early teen years.

CTW had embraced computer technology as early as 1979 with variable success, and in 1992, developed its first on-line service for preschoolers through Prodigy. It released its first CD-ROM title, called Numbers, in 1994, and today has 11 CD-ROMs produced with The Learning Company. In May, CTW’s CD-ROMs had the top four best-selling titles in the Home Education category, according to PC Data.

CTW’s Web site (www.ctw.org) is in the final stages of a redesign that it’s calling the CTW Family Workshop. The ad-supported Family Workshop debuted in September, with E Commerce, an on-line boutique, targeted for October.

‘We’re trying to be the connective tissue throughout all of these different [media] experiences, and not just use the Web site as a promotional site,’ says Tina Sharkey, VP and general manager of CTW Online.

Family Workshop will be made up of six content areas: The Networked Family, Parent’s Toolbox, Sesame Street Central, Preschool Playground, Let’s Celebrate Today and Kid City. Each area will feature useful information, games and activities, from the basics of using the Internet (Networked Family) to trivia games (Sesame Street Central). Kid City is targeted to older children (ages six to 11).

CTW has also formed partnerships with key Internet search engines such as Excite and WebCrawler, where it has created kids and family channels. A user can go to Excite, click on ‘Lifestyles/Kids and Families’ and have a CTW experience on that site without having to go to CTW’s Web site. ‘We just don’t want you to come to us, we’ll come to you,’ says Sharkey.

Unlike TV, the Internet provides CTW with the opportunity to have a direct dialogue with its audience. ‘What’s important in this space is that you stay flexible, fluid and that you are committed to change all of the time and adapting to it as people use it,’ says Sharkey.

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