Kids cable web Noggin launches

Big kidvid library keeps costs down

NEW YORK — Noggin, the educational kids cable web from Nickelodeon and Children’s Television Workshop, launched this week with a modest 1.5 million to 2 million subscribers, according to Tom Ascheim, general manager of Noggin.

However, because Noggin’s lineup is culled programmed mainly from CTW’s and Nick’s existing programming lineups, the cable channel has relatively low startup costs and won’t bleed too much red ink for its partner companies.

Noggin’s main affiliate, so far, is direct broadcast distributor EchoStar, which will kick in about 1.3 million of the cabler’s initial households.

The channel is being marketed as a digital network designed to fit on cable operators’ new digital tiers and DBS distributors such as EchoStar and DirecTv. So, Noggin’s success is reliant on how fast cable ops roll out their digital lineups. So far, less than 2 million households have digital cable.

Ascheim, who said that cable ops have responded enthusiastically about Noggin in affiliate meetings, predicts that the kids channel will have 10 million subscribers in two years.

Noggin launched at 6 a.m. Tuesday with the original episode of “Sesame Street,” which first aired in 1969. Noggin followed “Sesame Street” with the first episode of “The Electric Company,” which has not been televised since it premiered in 1971.

Noggin will also televise original programming out of the gate, said Ascheim. At first, all of Noggin’s originally produced programs will be short, interstitial-length shows.

The channel will launch with 10 of these short-form series, which will serve as an on-air development system, as well as establishing Noggin’s image and identity.

“Presidents of Infinity,” an original vignette that will ask kids what kind of inventions would make the world a better place, will hook up the kids who have the best responses with professional inventors, to bring their ideas to life.

“Unpacking the World” will help kids understand things they see everyday. For example, Ascheim said that one episode about the “Got Milk” ads, where celebrities have milk mustaches, would include interviews with everyone from the farmers to ad agency people, to explain how the ad was created.

In addition to being commercial-free and having the pedigree of Nick and CTW, Noggin will gain kids’ loyalty by talking to them, not down to them, Ascheim said.

“Unlike school, we are voluntary,” said Ascheim. “So, if we make Noggin seem like school, kids will be turned off. We need to make it feel like a great fun way to expand their minds.”

Noggin will use its Web site, which also launches Tuesday, to make kids feel more connected to the cable web.

For example, through Noggin’s Internet site, kids can vote for the animal they think should become Noggin’s company pet.

The cable web will also attempt to stay in tune with what kids like and dislike about Noggin by linking up to an elementary school. Noggin has signed up the Watchung School in Montclair, N.J., as its first “think tank,” said Ascheim. The kids will be frequently quizzed on what they think of Noggin and what concerns they have about life.

Because Noggin has only one feed for the entire country, Ascheim said that the cable web’s programming blocks are lengthy so both the East and West Coasts will have access to programs at convenient times.

From 5 a.m.-2 p.m. (EST), Noggin runs preschool programming ranging from CTW’s “Sesame Street” to Nick’s “Allegra’s Window” and “Gullah Gullah Island.”

A block targeting 6-12-year-old kids runs from 2-5 p.m. (EST) with shows such as CTW’s “Ghostwriter” and “Nick News.”

In an effort to lure kids and their parents during the 5-10 p.m. time period, Noggin will run shows such as “Doug.”

From 10 p.m.-5 a.m., Noggin will tap into the cult appeal of “Sesame Street” and other CTW shows for adults by running the shows all night and overnight.

Ascheim noted that a tour of colleges called “Sesame Street Unpaved” draws large crowds.

“The old programming from CTW stands the test of time,” said Ascheim.