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Viacom ups the Internet ante

In an aggressive move to beef up its presence on the Internet, Viacom has unveiled plans to launch two big-gun multimedia Web sites-one aimed at Nickelodeon's junior viewers ages six to 14, and the other targeting the 12 to 24 audience...
April 1, 1999

In an aggressive move to beef up its presence on the Internet, Viacom has unveiled plans to launch two big-gun multimedia Web sites-one aimed at Nickelodeon’s junior viewers ages six to 14, and the other targeting the 12 to 24 audience of MTV and VH1. Viacom plans to spend US$250 million over the next five years (US$100 million on Nick, US$100 million on MTV/VH1 and US$50 million internationally) to support the sites with a barrage of cross-promotions and on-air plugs.

With a working title of Project Nozzle, the Nick initiative is being positioned to compete with on-line mouse hits Disney Blast and Zoog Disney, which currently inhabit featured spots on the Disney.com Web site. Nozzle will provide a free, kids-only registered community service, complete with Web tours, bulletin boards, e-commerce hub, auditoriums, e-mail and chatrooms.

Slated to make its Net debut on September 1, the new ad-dependent site will initially rely on Nick’s existing stable of advertisors (including Burger King, Kraft and Mattel) to jump on-board the Internet project. ‘I think most of our clients are really keen to reach kids via the Internet,’ says Kris Bagwell, senior VP and GM of Nick’s on-line division, ‘but we want to attract new advertisers, as well.’

Nozzle will link to the existing ad-free Nick.com site, which garnered 1.4 million hits in December 1998, according to Internet research firm Media Matrix. Comparably, it’s reported that the Disney Channel alone attracted 54 million hits in the same period.

The new site will have a chance to iron out technical bugs and fine-tune content when it starts testing in June. ‘We’re going to bring in a regular panel of kids to test the usability of different applications and try things out,’ says Bagwell. ‘But we’re also interested in doing some innovative research like partnering with a school’s journalism club to figure out how a Web site’s current events area for kids should work.’

To achieve the lofty multimedia and e-commerce goals set for Nozzle, Viacom acquired Nvolve Inc., a San Mateo, California-based Web developer that’s designing the site, and Red Rocket, an on-line educational toy retailer that used to be part of the media giant’s Simon & Schuster unit.

Central to the MTV/VH1 Net launch, which is scheduled for June, was Viacom’s recent US$14-million purchase of Brisbane, California-based Imagine Radio, an Internet radio group that will provide customizable streaming audio for the site. Dubbed The Buggles Project (in tribute to MTV’s first music video for the Buggles’ song ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’), the ad-driven music service will roll into MTV.com, which racked up 1.2 million hits in December, according to Media Matrix. The Buggles Project will also feature video music channels, concert and ticket information, news and reviews, as well as a co-branded on-line shopping area.

Viacom is in the process of creating a New York-based Internet division (with a satellite office in San Mateo) to manage the two reconstruction projects, as well as all future Web ventures.

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