Nick Australia’s programming team is looking to make Nick Jr. a priority for 2004, with a block relaunch scheduled for March and a 50% budget bump. Now eight years old, the 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekday block averaged a rating of 28% with kids zero to four from September 19 to December 13 last year, but the channel would like to increase that take. And what better way to grab the attention of a preschooler than to enlist the help of a channel-exclusive Muppet.
Ollie, a creation of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop that was named by 6,000 kids in a nationwide contest, will appear about every other programming break, starring in a series of 40 30-second to 2.5-minute interstitials currently in production in-house. Designed to be an accessible friend kids can sing and play along with, Ollie will interact with other Nick Jr. characters from signature shows like Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer.
A second set of 150 interactive interstitials, called Play Along, is also in production in-house and will play into the relaunch. The spots feature an Aussie host who plays with kids and interacts with animated characters. These interstitials are also between 30 seconds and 2.5 minutes long, and will feature singing, dancing and crafts that teach basic learning concepts such as near and far.
Interactivity is the linchpin of the Nick Jr. relaunch, and it’s also the defining quality being hunted by Nick’s preschool acquisitions team. Jane Gould, Nick Australia’s programming and research director, says the block will be refreshed by nearly a dozen new shows in 2004, half of which are in negotiations now. As far as rounding out the dozen, the channel is looking for half-hour and 10-minute live-action and animated series, and Gould is especially keen to pick up a show that marries the two styles. Nick Jr. has no co-production budget, so only fully funded shows need apply.
‘We’re really looking for the interactive model of preschool programming,’ says Gould. ‘We want our shows to be a direct call to action for preschoolers, getting them up dancing, clapping and yelling out answers.’ She adds that an interactive theme is one way Nick Jr. can differentiate itself from the programming offered by its preschool market competitors – free-to-air public broadcaster ABC Australia and digital channel Playhouse Disney.
The October acquisition of popular sing-along series Hi-5 (Kids Like Us) has helped up Nick Jr.’s market share over these competitors, garnering top ratings for the channel in its 11:30 a.m. time slot with a 14.7% share of zero- to four-year-olds. Originally commissioned by Nine Network, the live-action show features five singers and dancers who use music and clips to engage viewers. Currently in its fifth season, Hi-5 consists of 225 half-hour episodes and has already been spun off into U.K. and U.S. versions.