LONDON: Nickelodeon UK managing director Janie Grace has unveiled plans for the fall launch of a new digital channel aimed at preschoolers. The new channel, Nick Jr, will air 13 hours a day on the Sky Digital platform beginning September 1, and will also have a four-hour slot between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Sky’s analog service. Nick Jr. is the first dedicated channel for the under six set in the U.K.
Grace is promising that 50% of the Nick Jr. lineup will be comprised of British programming. Two-thirds of it will be exclusive to U.K. pay TV, and 10 new-to-Nick series will air at launch. These include HIT’s Bob the Builder, Britt Allcroft’s Magic Adventures of Mumfie, Happy Life’s Lisa, Telemagination’s Wiggly Park and Billy. Nick is also poised to sign up CTW’s Sesame Street on an exclusive basis.
According to Grace, the launch of the channel reflects the ‘huge success we have had with our Nick Jr. branded block (from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.) on the main Nick channel. Since it was introduced three years ago, our ratings in that time slot have gone from flat zeros to a TVR of one-which is excellent for that time of day.’ Explaining the rationale for the venture, she said there was ‘a definite gap in the market. Young children are a distinct audience with their own specific needs, interests and sense of humor.’
For now, the Nick Jr. block on the main channel will continue to run as normal. However, the younger material will make way for more appropriate programs over the course of the next 18 months, as digital pay uptake increases and supplants the analog subscriber base.
Apart from its series premieres, Nick Jr. will air current Nick hits like the reversioned puppet/live-action show Blues Clues. It will also screen kids classics like Bod, The Clangers, The Wombles and The Adventures of Paddington Bear. But it’s likely to be a year or more before Grace commissions totally new shows for the service. When new shows do join the lineup, they may emerge from Nick’s joint venture with Granada. Grace hopes to be able to announce some of the fruits of that partnership in the coming months. ‘It is warming up nicely,’ she claims. ‘After a slow start, there are some good-looking properties coming through.’
The latest figures show Sky Digital growing rapidly on the back of a set top box giveaway. Currently, it appears to be on course to sign up more than a million subscribers by year’s end. In addition to Nick Jr., the platform will also air a time-shifted version of the main Nickelodeon channel to give kids a second viewing opportunity.
Nick will not have a completely clear run at the market. In a July speech, the BBC’s outgoing director-general Sir John Birt revealed that the corporation is also gearing up to launch a digital kids offering, though he gave no specifics. Likewise, SDN’s long-awaited Nursery Channel is now expected to launch in the fall, according to
channel chief Anna Home.