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Nat Geo Kids Digs Deeper Into Fiction, Digital to Reach Young Eyeballs

During a time in which competing for children’s attention is tougher than ever, National Geographic Kids is looking to expand its reach with a multi-platform approach that includes a deeper dive into fictional content and digital video offerings.

Brand-new middle-grade book (plus multimedia) series “Zeus the Mighty” launches this fall, National Geographic Kids and Family content VP Jennifer Emmett told Variety. The adventure series is a sophomore effort that follows last year’s debut of “Explorer Academy,” Nat Geo Kids’ initial foray into make-believe.

Publishing fiction might seem like an incongruous turn for the venerable scientific education brand, but it’s being framed as a new and different way to get kids interested in real-world science.

“What we’re trying to do here is not just enter the fictional world for the sake of storytelling alone, because plenty of people are doing that and doing it well,” said Emmett. “We’re trying to hook kids on exploration.”

“Zeus the Mighty,” published by National Geographic and distributed by Penguin Random House, is described as “Greek mythology meets ‘The Secret Life of Pets.'” The series stars Zeus the hamster, Athena the cat, Poseidon the puffer fish, and a pug named after Ares, the god of war, and is meant to educate kids about Greek myths and the culture and geography of ancient Greece. The first book in the series, “Zeus the Mighty: The Quest for the Golden Fleas,” hits shelves on Oct. 22, and will be followed by a new book every six months.

Calling fiction “a new adventure for us,” Emmett said that “Zeus,” like “Explorer Academy” before it, will be supported by multimedia content, including video, podcasts, a website, and magazine content.

“We’re really trying to be where kids are,” she said. In addition to revamping its U.S. kids YouTube channel last year, National Geographic has even launched a few Alexa skills aimed at engaging children.

“In video, we’re doing this short-form strategy, which then ties into our other platforms in digital and in publishing, so that we can advance this content strategy where we are bringing out content across all our platforms in a unified way,” she said.

National Geographic Kids reaches 260 million kids a month worldwide through a combination of TV, social media, the web, apps, and a radio partnership with Sirius XM. It also recently launched “Fearless Kids,” which the company describes as a “cross-platform family initiative to inspire fearlessness in children.”

Amid on-screen competition not just from popular peculiarities like “unboxing” videos YouTube, the brand also has to compete with licensed and original children’s programming from the likes of Amazon and Netflix.

That said, the more-than-130-year-old parent National Geographic brand will feature its video programming on the budding Disney Plus service later this year, after the close of Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets. It is not yet clear how much National Geographic Kids content will be funneled into the streaming service, which Disney is positioning as a family-friendly platform. But there is presumably opportunity to expand its digital reach even further.

“We’re incredibly excited about Disney, but we’re not really able to say any more than that,” said Emmett. “We’re looking forward to it.”

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