In response to the growing demand for more interactivity among this hyper-connected generation of preschoolers, Nickelodeon has added play-along features to its preschool SVOD app, Noggin, through a new proprietary video-authoring tool.
While kids will undoubtedly be enthused to tap, swipe and engage with popular Nickelodeon characters, a more seamless digital creation tool is also music to the ears of the net’s content team. The tech speeds up the process of creating interactive features, handing over the ability to make digital content to show creators, producers and animators—rather than bringing in digital developers and third-party publishers to do the work for them.
“We are introducing interactive videos, but the big thing for us is that we’re transforming the scale and how we produce them,” says Matthew Evans , EVP of digital and new business at Nickelodeon.
Launching today are 30 play-along videos based on Bubble Guppies, Team Umizoomi and Blaze and the Monster Machines. The videos let kids interact with show characters, answer questions and solve different problems on-screen. There will also be short-form interactive content that stars such characters as Nick Jr.’s Moose and Zee.
“We know that kids expect interactivity on their devices,” says Evans. “So we asked ourselves how can we transform and how we make content to deliver interactive episodes alongside the way that we produce linear ones. If Blaze and AJ [from Blaze and the Monster Machines] need to go through a bunch of mud bubbles, now the child can pop the bubbles and help them overcome that obstacle.”
The new tool works with real-time scene editing and a live preview, so the creative teams can easily layer on the interactive elements where it makes the most sense. The tech will also allow show creators to release play-along and linear versions of an episode at the same time.
The play-along videos are currently available on Noggin‘s iOS version (an ad-free service with a US$5.99 monthly subscription), but Evans says they will be heading to Android soon, and then to the Nick Jr. app. “We believe this capability will give us the opportunity to create interactive stories for kids across our demo and ultimately up into the older range as well,” he says.
The idea of interactive content isn’t entirely new to Nickelodeon. The kidsnet pioneered call-and-response linear preschool programming with Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer, wherein characters ask viewers a question and leave some time for them to shout our their answers. The net does have a suite of kids gaming apps like the SpongeBob Moves In and SpongeBob Doodle Jump, but Noggin is the first to incorporate both linear TV and embedded interactive play.
“With our new suite of technology, we are able to create 46 play-along videos in one year. This isn’t just a launch, this is the beginning of a steady pipeline that’s going to grow over time,” says Evans. “Just as important, we wanted to make it easy for kids to access these play-along videos, so we’re launching them in our existing apps like Noggin, so they don’t need to go and download a separate one.”
The play-along videos are about bringing the curriculum moments from the linear TV shows to life. Evans says Nick has seen a great educational benefit when kids are actively engaged in problem-solving activities. Its research shows that when kids are actively participating in the content, rather than passively consuming it, they are more likely to remember and retain it in the future.
“For play-along, we are continuing production on properties that we have, we are starting production on a couple of additional shows, and we are beginning to look at the creation of a series of play-along videos that are brand-new IP as well,” says Evans. “We’re going to be really adding to the line-up of properties as well as making the videos available on more platforms and in more apps.”
Noggin is currently one of the top-10 grossing kids apps on the US App Store and the number-one grossing app for music/video in the family category on Google Play. There are 25 Nickelodeon shows available on the app, with more on the way that will feature play-along interactive elements.
The push for more digital offerings is in line with Nickelodeon’s recent technological advancements, including the launch of a new R&D Entertainment Lab last month. The lab is focusing on identifying and experimenting with new technology, including real-time rendering, virtual cinema and virtual reality, along with augmented and mixed reality and artificial intelligence.