Yesterday Viacom announced Noggin, a new $5.99/month ad-free, mobile-centric OTT service for preschoolers that will launch on March 5th. Viacom said that Noggin's content will be solely library-based, making it distinct from what's already available on-air on Nick Jr. Noggin will include programs such as "Blue's Clues," "Little Bear" and "Ni Hao, Kari-lan," plus others. In addition to the OTT offering, Viacom said it's talking to pay-TV operators about Noggin being a premium offer for authenticated subscribers.
Noggin is the latest response by TV networks to the dramatic market changes currently playing out. As I recently described, disruption has been particularly acute in the kids' space, where kids' cable TV networks' ratings are plunging as OTT services have avidly built out their kids offerings. Just since writing that piece 2 weeks ago, YouTube has launched a kids-focused app, Netflix has added 5 new kids series and Amazon has renewed 4 others, all amping up the pressure on kids TV networks even further.
There's no better illustration of the massive disruptive impact of OTT options like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime than the decimation of kids-oriented cable TV networks currently playing out. According to Todd Juenger, senior analyst at Bernstein, whose weekly TV Audience Tracker (which is based on Nielsen data), I closely follow, viewership of kids cable TV networks is down 23% quarter-to-date in 2015 vs. the same period of 2014.
The trends are even worse. For the most recent week (ending Feb. 1st), viewership was down 28%, following the prior week when it was down 29%. These declines compare to the relatively more modest-looking Q4 '14 decline of 16.8% vs. Q4 '13. For the Feb. 1st week, all kids cable networks were down, with Nickelodeon losing the most - a whopping 44% of its prior year viewership, and Cartoon Network losing the least - 3% vs. the prior year. Every kids cable network Bernstein follows is down so far this year, except Cartoon, which is up 6%.
Tomorrow morning Charter Communications will announce a redesigned version of Charter.net, the company's portal for its broadband Internet subscribers. I got a sneak preview of the press release and the new site along with a briefing with Himesh Bhise, VP &GM of High-Speed Internet for Charter, who oversees the portal.
According to Himesh, this redesign is the first key milestone for three main themes the company is pursuing for its portal: improved functionality and feature accessibility on its home page, increased video availability and more extensive TV listings.
I'm impressed with the direction Charter's taking. Charter's goals of enhancing the value of its bundle of video and online services is right on the money. I've said for a while that cable operators are potentially going to be the biggest beneficiaries of broadband video because they already have longstanding relationships with cable TV networks and video consumers, plus a huge base of broadband subscribers (Charter has over 2.5 million).
Charter's in synch with this thinking. They've done deals with a range of partners from biggies like Nickelodeon, HBO and FX to smaller ones like IFC, ResearchChannel.org and HAVOC. Charter's bringing selected video clips into its portal and will also offer some exclusive premieres of certain programming. Other cable operators like Comcast, Time Warner and Cablevision are already down this road with similar activities. Charter's initiatives add further momentum to this trend.
While I'm a fan of these moves, I would love to see the cable guys step up their broadband video activities even further. For example, Himesh and I engaged in an interested mini-debate about the definition and value of "exclusive" broadband programming. To me there's an terrific opportunity for cable operators to negotiate and obtain the broadband rights, at least for a defined window, for certain programs exclusively for their Internet subscribers. This would mean their subscribers get video they just can't get elsewhere. (Btw, that's kind of the way the cable TV world used to work until Congress stepped in with the "program access rules" in the '92 Cable Act).
Some kind of exclusive broadband programming would differentiate cable's portals from the Joosts and other next-gen broadband aggregators coming into the market. I think it's inevitable we're going to see some jousting for these kinds of rights, especially as things get more competitive.