After sharing a channel space for five years, the experiment that was The N and Noggin has finally split into two separate entities. And after a brief settling-in period following the New Year’s Eve relaunch, they’re both fully engaged in the process of defining their programming strategies and bulking up on original content and acquisitions to fill out their new 24-hour schedules.
One of the biggest advantages for teen-skewing net The N, which used to air from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., lies in being able to connect with its viewers as soon as they get home from school, rather than having to work overtime to lure them away from competitive 24-hour nets at 6 p.m. Operating in the broadcast space that used to belong to Nick’s Games and Sports channel (which has moved over to broadband and also still airs on Echo Star in the US), The N is relying on a heavy dose of new original programming to convince its 64 million viewers to migrate along with it.
A full 50% of the net’s expanded schedule is earmarked for proprietary fare, and the team is moving full-steam ahead to wrap up three original live-action series and two new Degrassi specials that will roll out in primetime over the summer and fall to compete with Disney Channel and ABC Family – entrenched competitors going after the same target demo.
Queen Bees, which debuts in July, is an eight x half-hour reality series about transforming vain and spoiled mean-girl types into more caring, well-rounded individuals, and The N’s Student Body pits teams from rival schools against each other in a competition to get fit and adopt a healthier lifestyle. The Assistants, bowing in October, is a workplace comedy about four post-grads trying to claw their way to the top at a cutthroat Hollywood production company. As for the long-running Canadian drama that has been a staple at The N for years, a new Degrassi movie and half-hour documentary special in production at Epitome Pictures will center on the cast building a new school in Kenya.
Looking ahead, the channel’s SVP of original programming and creative director, Amy Friedman, is planning to add three to five original series a year to the lineup. Dramedies that mix humor with a serial storyline that keeps teens coming back for more week after week are still The N’s bread and butter, and its strongest performers in this vein at the moment are Degrassi: The Next Generation, South of Nowhere and The Best Years.
But Friedman is also keen to get her hands on more specials and movies (both originals and licensed feature films), and she may even be into a bit of anime-inspired animation. But, she cautions, ‘We will be very careful with animation because it is hard to get teenage girls to watch it.’
As for scheduling, the gameplan for now is to run a daytime block of TEENick shows (including Kenan and Kel, Unfabulous and Just Jordan), and then stack the originals, specials and movies in the evenings. With so much dramedy in its vault, The N has traditionally been a bit of a haven for girls. But SVP and GM, Sarah Tomassi Lindman, expects the TEENick fare to create a more gender-balanced audience that stretches further on either side of the core 12 to 17 target demo.
Tomassi Lindman adds that having weekend days to play with offers a huge opportunity to reach teens who are at home lazing around. So on Saturdays and Sundays, The N is running original programming in the mornings, and then single-show marathons for series such as Degrassi: The Next Generation and Drake & Josh in the afternoons in a bid to help viewers catch up on shows they may have missed during the busy week.
Although it’s still early days, the audience seems to be appreciating the direction The N’s team is taking. In Q1, the channel’s teen ratings were up by 18% over the same period last year, and 27% over the last pre-split measurement in Q4 ’07.
Mirroring recent moves made by several other dedicated preschool nets, perhaps most significantly its new chief rival PBS Kids Sprout, Noggin is gearing up for a scheduling overhaul that will better synch up its programming to the pacing of a preschooler’s day. Right now, the net stacks its shows in half-hour and hour-long bundles, with hours running from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and midnight to 5 a.m., and the shorter half-hour packages from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. But Brown Johnson, president of animation for Nickelodeon and the MTVN Kids and Family Group, is working towards a more defined blocking strategy for the 24-hour schedule, with high-energy programming in the morning and calmer fare in the evening.
She also says that the net will broaden its curriculum-focused educational mandate by adding series that nurture social skills, eco-consciousness and some developmental stages that it hasn’t focused on in the past.
To bulk up in the interim, Noggin has gone cherrypicking in the Nick Jr. library to add series like Little Bear and Oswald during the day, as well as moving the strongest Nick Jr. performers (namely Max & Ruby, Dora, Diego, The Backyardigans, The Wonder Pets, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and Blue’s Clues) into its new primetime from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Co-viewing is top of mind for Noggin’s schedulers in this daypart, so they’ll be looking for shows that have layers of humor to engage parents in the experience.
As for new original Noggin content to one day take the torch from shows like Jack’s Big Music Show, Pinky Dinky Doo and Oobi, Johnson plans to look at Nick’s preschool production activity as a whole and wait for episodes to be delivered before her team decides if they should debut on Noggin or Nick Jr. One project in the pipeline that will go through this new sorting process is Umi Zumis, a new math-centric in-house production.
In the meantime, Noggin’s new shows for fall are just starting to trickle in. They include Toot and Puddle, a publishing-based series from National Geographic Kids Entertainment, new episodes of Cartoon Pizza’s Pinky Dinky Doo and the first 52 eps of Rubber Duck’s Peppa Pig.
At press time, Noggin wasn’t ready to share performance statistics for its two-month-old 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. daypart, but ratings for its pre-existing 12-hour daytime feed have increased by 13% from last year, with ratings on Saturdays up by 22%