Prodded into action by an industry prediction that the kids on-line population will quadruple from five million to 20 million in the next two years (according to a Jupiter Communications study last August), Net service superstar America Online has launched a new Kids Only Channel to try and snare the attention of this growing digital demo.
To score a hit with the six to 12 set, AOL has signed a whole whack of content agreements to connect with the coolest kids’ Web sites on the Internet (such content partnerships are generally settled for a nominal fee that’s negotiated on a case-by-case basis). The new Channel features links to Curiocity’s FreeZone (an on-line community in which kid reporters dish the latest in news, sports and pop culture), ePLAY (hosted by original Web toons called the e-BUGS, this site was ranked the best for in-school use by Infoseek), MysteryNet (scary stories, magic tricks and a weekly Nancy Drew series), The New York Times Learning Network, TIME for Kids and The Yuckiest Site on the Internet (human biology and the creepy, crawly world of earth science made fun).
These AOL newcomers are already experiencing huge increases in traffic as a result of partnering with the Web monolith. Before the link was posted, Curiocity’s FreeZone garnered an average of about four million to seven million page views each month. Emily Chapman, director of business development for FreeZone (a brand of Thompson Target Media), says that areas of the site which are connected to AOL are now entertaining five times the normal number of visitors.
Mark Dewey, group programming director at AOL, isn’t baffled by the traffic tallies as he believes the Kids Only Channel and its cluster of partner Web sites are in a position to corral kid surfers directly from the regular AOL service. The site currently attracts about two to three million kids a month-not surprising, given that 53% of the AOL’s 16 million adult members have children.
Curiocity FreeZone’s Chapman is banking on luring new advertisers with this beefed-up usership carrot. ‘Visibility on the Kids Only Channel is great for our business model since AOL is the kids on-line leader,’ she says. ‘Bottom line? What’s good for our traffic is good for our advertising, and those are the two things that matter most on the Internet right now.’
AOL’s new Channel builds on an older, ad-free AOL kids area that hooked up with veteran on-line entities like Cartoon Network, MaMaMedia, Nickelodeon, NTN for Kids, ABC Kidzine, Antagonist for Kids, Athlete Direct, Blackberry Creek, Bookworm, Entertainment Asylum Kids and CBS Sports-Line, all of which will continue to provide content for AOL’s newest kids venture.
Dewey is aiming to secure a broad range of on-line advertising for the Channel, including banners, custom content and sponsorships. So far, the Kids Only Channel’s sole advertising initiative is a sponsorship with Intel’s PC Dads called ‘Kids in the Driver’s Seat,’ which teaches kids about on-line safety via a contest affording them the chance to win a trip to the NASCAR event of their choice.
On-line safety is a fundamental component of AOL’s kids service philosophy. Parental controls, which are currently used by 70% of AOL’s households with children, allow parents to set a variety of access levels for kids of different ages, limiting the possibility of them accidentally accessing lewd and lascivious content. Adult subscribers to America Online can also tailor access to on-line activities like chat, e-mail, newsgroups and downloadable image and sound files.
The Kids Only Channel is being promoted on-line on the regular AOL service, as well as off-line in Thompson Target Media’s publications, including FreeZone Weekly, a newspaper page that’s distributed directly to 3 million households and schools, and a Curiocity FreeZone newsletter, which is sent to 57,000 kids in the U.S.
AOL is monitoring the success of the Kids Only Channel very closely since it might use the project model to revamp its rather uninspired teen area, which currently features the Teen People Web site as its major content provider. Relaunch details were not available at press time.