Cabler pacts with THQ for development

HOLLYWOOD — Having grabbed the attention of young kids watching TV and interacting online, Nickelodeon now is going after slightly older kids who spend more time playing videogames.

The cable network has partnered with videogame publisher THQ to develop the first videogames from Nickelodeon that are not based on existing TV series.

As the original videogames are developed for introduction on all game consoles in late 2002/early 2003, the companies will be looking at their multimedia potential as movie properties, TV series or even online games, magazines and consumer products.

“It’s more economic for us to develop an audience in videogames and pre-sell that to TV than it is to establish a TV audience and pre-sell that to videogames,” said Nickelodeon chief operating officer Jeff Dunn.

‘Another development stream’

“We will consider this another development stream,” said Albie Hecht, Nickelodeon’s president of film and TV entertainment. “We’ll be instantly looking at storyline and characters and even consider the game a pilot.”

“Nickelodeon is great at storytelling and they’re master marketers,” said Peter Dille, VP of marketing at THQ.

THQ is Nickelodeon’s partner on the “Rugrats” videogames for PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color, which have generated retail sales of more than $125 million on 4 million units in the U.S. New game versions of Nickelodeon series “Rocket Power,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “The Wild Thornberrys” will be released later this year. Additional games are being created for the network’s newest franchise, “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” Series will get an online component later this year in advance of the December release of the theatrical film, which will precede the introduction of the TV series in fall 2002.

With older consumers the first to embrace new game consoles, Stephen Youngwood, VP of Nickelodeon Interactive and book publishing, said he doesn’t expect Microsoft’s new X-Box player — being launched this fall — to be in the homes of 9- to 14-year-olds until 2003.

Hecht said that since most videogames are action/adventure-oriented, that genre presents another way for Nickelodeon to target the oldest segment of its kid audience. “We’re going after the core 9-14 demo, where we’re already No. 1 on cable and online,” he said.

Although the emphasis will be on games, the network will consider all possible media from the beginning of development.

Cross-development potential

“We won’t wait until it comes out as a videogame before looking at the TV and film possibilities,” added Youngwood.

Just as Disney learned years ago that a brand identified with young kids can be a deterrent to older kids, Nickelodeon may play down its brand on the original vidgames, emphasizing the characters and the game itself.

THQ will manage development of the games, with Nickelodeon selecting the property with THQ and helping guide the development.

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