As digital streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon continue to take on network-esque characteristics by developing their own original content, kidcasters like Nickelodeon are doing what they can to make their own content more accessible on-demand. Enter the Nick App, a two-month-old interactive platform for the iPad that offers on-demand access to more than 1,000 pieces of Nickelodeon content as well as a continuous crop of interactive activities. The product also marks the first branded and TV Everywhere-authenticated app published by parent company Viacom.
“The iPad is as much of a kids’ device as anything today, so it was time to bring Nick there,” says Nickelodeon digital media EVP and GM Steve Youngwood, who oversaw development of the app. “We are bringing our episodes to the platform but are also creating new content for it.” Among the content featured on the ad-supported app are short-form videos of original comedy skits, behind-the-scenes clips and photos of Nick stars and characters, polls, games, music, and full-length Nickelodeon show episodes. The latter will be available to the 50 million households subscribing to cable services from AT&T U-verse, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, DIRECTV, RCN, Suddenlink, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS.
“In the on-demand environment you don’t have to worry about linear TV content—there is something there for everyone,” says Youngwood. In making things more available for everyone, the app will soon be available for iPhone, other mobile screens and connected TVs. A Nick Jr. app will follow later this year, echoing characteristics of Nick App, but sporting age-appropriate games in lieu of things like polls and articles that appeal to Nick’s older target demo.
The app falls in line with the network’s 2013 upfront presentation, which emphasized the importance of building community and engaging its audience across new platforms. Of course, a community is also measured in numbers—often of the Nielsen kind—and Youngwood says making sure content on the app is feeding TV programming, and not just vice versa, will further boost linear TV ratings. For instance, the new Nick Studio 10 daypart will air every weekday afternoon starting this spring, featuring kids who challenge each other to make funny content. What is created on the show will sync with the app and content from the app will air on the show.
“That brand engagement only builds the connection deeper,” says Youngwood. “We originally viewed [the app] as a creative sandbox for kids, but it has turned into a creative sandbox for Nick itself. It will be a way to introduce and experiment with new properties, which in turn reinforces TV engagement,” he adds.
Tuna Amobi, a media and entertainment equity analyst at S&P Capital IQ, says that type of reinforcement is necessary to uphold the network’s ratings comeback. The app was conceived and developed during a period when Nickelodeon experienced a ratings drop of nearly 30% (Q4 2012 results have shown a ratings uptick thanks to new content investment), and Amobi says there was an accelerated urgency to reach children through tablets and web-connected devices.
“[Networks like Nickelodeon] are looking to provide more value to subscribers above what they are paying,” Amobi says. “So this app is consumer friendly—as the consumer can watch content on his or her own terms—and the companies can prove their retention.”
Amobi notes children’s mobile activity takes place in short bursts, where content is parceled out in “snackable” bits. But with Nick offering full VOD episodes via the app, that might change. “The app will definitely help viewer engagement, but it’s hard to measure by how much. Nickelodeon can sell advertising, but financially it’s like a trickle in a bucket—it’s more to keep subscribers happy and engaged,” he says. Networks, he adds, can’t afford to not be present on all web-connected platforms and devices, despite kids’ fickle viewing and mobile play patterns.
But the one thing so far that has been a consistent winner among Nick App users is its Do Not Touch Button. As the name suggests, it is a large button that triggers snappy, outrageous reactions when touched—think burping noises, or iPad screens suddenly covered in that famous Nick slime. Youngwood notes fun features and add-ons like this help keep kids both engaged and entertained. And perhaps not surprising is the fact that the button was developed by a group of nine-year-olds during a focus group session. It was pressed more than 10 million times within the first two weeks of the app’s launch, so clearly the group was onto something.
Of course, in the end it all leads back to the ratings where the ultimate goal—just like with the Do Not Touch button—is to get a rise.