Nickelodeon’s Noggin is today taking a step to differentiate Noggin from being just another “Netflix for kids” type of subscription video service. Alongside its existing lineup of TV shows and sing-alongs, Nick is introducing a series of what it calls “play along” videos. These new videos, which are also curriculum-based, are designed to be interactive in nature – asking kids to tap, touch, swipe or speak to move through their various storylines.
The idea of interactive children’s TV is an old one. From early shows like “Howdy Doody” and “Romper Room,” to classics like “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers,” shows have been breaking the fourth wall – meaning the show’s stars and characters would speak directly to viewers, and often encourage their participation.
Studies conducted over the years from Children’s Television Workshop later validated this format as a better way to educate kids via TV programming. They found that when kids participated by singing or talking, they retained most of what they learned when tested a month later. This research helped to standardize the practice, which is now prevalent in many shows aimed at preschoolers, including Nick’s “Go Diego Go,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Blue’s Clues,” and others.
Now, Nickelodeon is re-imaging how this format can help make its way to mobile devices, where kids may be less engaged than when they used to watch TV. On mobile, push notifications can interrupt the viewing experience, and there’s a world of other games and apps right on the homescreen, becoming kids the second they get bored.
With Nick’s play-along videos, the idea is to make the video content more engaging by requiring kids to interact with the content. Not only will this keep them in the app, it also gives the videos a game-like feel which makes for a better fit on mobile devices where gaming is one of the most popular activities.
At launch, there are over 30 of these interactive videos available from “Blaze and the Monster Machines,” “Bubble Guppies,” and “Team Umizoomi,” as well as short-form content from “Moose and Zee.” The company says it plans to roll out 65 more over the next year and a half.
The videos themselves were developed in partnership with curriculum and research consultants, with a focus on developing cognitive, social and emotional skills – much like kids’ TV does. In addition, the videos will promote subjects like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) along with these softer skills.
Nickelodeon doesn’t see the launch of the videos as a one-off upgrade to Noggin. Instead, the company has invested in its own video authoring tool which the company says will kick off the launch of a new production model that will be used across Nick’s platforms going forward.
“We have taken existing show assets for these properties and added interactivity, and we’ve created brand-new animation for the extended interactive moments,” explains Matthew Evans, EVP, Digital and New Business, Nickelodeon Group.
“We have transformed our production capabilities through our proprietary authoring tool which enables the simultaneous creation of interactive digital content alongside the production of linear TV content. Our new authoring tool supports real-time scene editing and a live preview that allows the teams to layer in interactive elements, to create brand-new play-along moments within any episode,” he says.
The tool also speeds up the time it takes to make these interactive episodes, which before took 6 to 9 months per episode. Now, Nickelodeon has produced 46 (30 long form, 16 short form) in a year’s time.
That means Nickelodeon will be able to create both the linear version of the video at the same time as they’re building the interactive one. The play along video player has also been designed to integrate into Nick’s existing applications, like Noggin, instead of requiring a separate app download.
Nickelodeon’s owner, Viacom, hasn’t played well with streaming services over the years. The company previously downplayed the cord cutting trend in general, today keeps its new shows off streaming services, and generally fails to get deals done with streaming services. PlayStation Vue lost Viacom channels as a result, and Hulu couldn’t come to terms with Viacom in advance of launching its live TV offering, for example.
With Noggin, Viacom has its own streaming service of sorts, however. Though mostly a collection of back catalog content from the Noggin TV network (which later rebranded to Nick Jr.), the $5.99 per month subscription offering has plenty for kids to watch. In addition to the new play-along shows, there are hundreds of episodes from “Blue’s Clues,” “The Backyardigans,” “Yo Gabba Gabba,” “Teletubbies,” and more.
Surprisingly, Noggin may not be the only streaming service that adopts the interactive video format. Netflix is rumored to be working on a “choose your own adventure” format for adult programming, that lets viewers control key plot decisions.
Noggin’s new play along videos will first hit iOS devices, starting June 1st, before rolling out to other platforms. (It appears the U.S. App Store already has them.)