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Now, kidsí TV (and ads) online at will

BY HARRY BERKOWITZ
STAFF WRITER

July 7, 2005

Nickelodeon is blending together two of the biggest obsessions of youngsters -- television and the Internet.

The cable channel has launched a free service that allows viewers to choose and watch some full-length episodes of its kids' TV programs online at any time of the day, including "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "The Fairly OddParents."

Similar to TV, the shows include 30-second commercial interruptions. Unlike taped playbacks from TV, however, the ads can't be skipped. Taking advertising a step further, a still image of each commercial lingers at the bottom of the screen during the program until the next commercial.

The service, called Turbo.Nick, was launched quietly on nick.com on Friday and won't be promoted heavily until July 17 while Nickelodeon works out any kinks. It resembles the video-on-demand service that Nickelodeon offers on some cable systems, including Cablevision.

"Kids are going everywhere technology is, and we want to be where kids are," said Mike Skagerlind, senior vice president and general manager of Nickelodeon Online, adding that Nick even offers video clips on cell phones.

At TurboNick, youngsters can choose from up to 20 hours of programming each week, ranging from 30-second shorts such as "Mr. Meaty" to full 22-minute programs, including some premieres that will be on TV later, such as the animated "Cat.scratch."

The shows fall into six categories, including animated Nicktoons, TEENick, comedies and entertainment-world clips.

Critics say TurboNick provides more evidence that marketing to children has gotten out of hand. "This is a way of hooking kids well beyond the 30-second commercial," said Susan Linn, a psychologist at the Harvard-affiliated Judge Baker Children's Center. "Marketers are working harder and harder to make sure their brands are in front of children's eyeballs as much as possible throughout the day."

Skagerlind said at least five minutes and as much as 22 minutes separate each commercial, depending on the program.

"The rate of advertising is extremely modest," he said.

Advertisers include Topps, General Mills, Kellogg's, Activision and Sony Pictures.

In a typical day, youngsters spend an average of about one hour on computers, more than double the amount five years ago, according to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. They spend an average of three hours, 51 minutes watching TV and videos. And they often do both at the same time.

For Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon as well as MTV Networks, the TurboNick service is another way to expand its use of the Internet to reach audiences.

VH1, part of MTV Networks, is premiering the new season of "The Surreal Life" today on its Web site, three days before it debuts on TV as part of a new service called VSPOT. Last month, MTV Networks acquired the virtual pet site Neopets.

 

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