Nickelodeon Looks for Its Own 'H.S. Musical'

'Naked Brothers' Get A-List Treatment From Sony, Viacom

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Nickelodeon wants its own "High School Musical." The ad-supported kids' network is often neck-and-neck in the ratings with the Disney Channel, but now the kiddie brand wants to compete with Disney on the Billboard charts. The music war starts Oct. 9, when Nick releases "The Naked Brothers Band" from the hit show of the same name and the first release to come out of Nick's new joint venture with Sony Music.
The Naked Brothers Band
The Naked Brothers Band

Although Nickelodeon has released successful soundtracks to its hit shows and movies such as "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Dora the Explorer" over the years, the Naked Brothers marks the network's first foray into artist development. It also comes at a time when Disney has made some serious revenue from its partnership with Hollywood Records with the "Hannah" and "HSM" soundtracks. And Disney has developing artists in the pipeline, such as the Jonas Brothers, another teen-brother band who recently struck the Billboard Top Five with their self-titled album and are on track to become the next Disney TV stars in 2008.

Before Disney completely takes over kids music, however, Nickelodeon has its own assault planned. Its offering, "The Naked Brothers Band," has a good shot, considering it's the top-rated show for kids 6-11 on ad-supported cable, averaging 1.6 million live viewers since its premiere and often garnering 10 million total viewers through the course of seven days.

Spearheading the Viacom kid channel's efforts is Doug Cohn, the new senior VP-music marketing and talent for Nickelodeon/MTV Networks' Kids and Family group and head of Nick's newly created joint venture with Sony Music Label Group. Mr. Cohn is well-suited for the gig, having spent 13 years with Atlantic Records in music-video production, promotion and marketing. During his tenure at Atlantic, Mr. Cohn was key in launching mainstream artists such as Jewel, Death Cab for Cutie, Matchbox Twenty and Panic! at the Disco through getting their videos on MTV and VH1, eventually working at the latter network from 2000-2002 as director music and talent relations.

He spoke with MediaWorks recently of his plans for Nick's music venture, the hopes that Nick Jr.'s "Yo Gabba Gabba!" could become the new "Sesame Street" and why "the whole building" at Viacom is gunning on the Naked Brothers' success.

MediaWorks: Since the Naked Brothers is the first act to come out of the new partnership with Sony Music, what are your goals?

Doug Cohn: There's no previous model to base it on. They did a great job writing great songs, so the company's throwing the whole building behind it. ... As part of the MTV Networks family, everyone's been incredibly supportive of us going in uncharted territory. So we've got the guys going on "TRL," MTV's doing a leak for the record, they even have a page on VH1.com. So there's a lot of family love here. It's an A-list album release for Sony as well -- they're the artist of month on AOL, they're on the home page of Yahoo, Nat and Alex [Wolff] have a MySpace page. I've worked at record companies for enough years to see this as an A-level release hitting every target that you would for every A-list artist. We've been in countless meetings saying, "What else can we do? What haven't we done?" And as the meetings get shorter we feel like we've gotten closer to what we set out to accomplish.

MediaWorks: You have a four-year contract to release albums with Sony Music. Anything else coming down the pike?

Mr. Cohn: We're working on the release schedule for next year. You can certainly count on records from franchises you already know and love, like Dora [the Explorer], Diego ["Go, Diego, Go!"] and SpongeBob. There's a whole preschool world we haven't talked about, and we're putting together a hit list of some incredible artists together.

MediaWorks: "Yo Gabba Gabba!" on Nick Jr. is following a "Sesame Street" model -- you've got Biz Markie doing "Biz's Beat of the Day," indie bands like Low and Shiny Toy Guns have written songs for it and the Shins are coming up.

Mr. Cohn: The music and music videos are doing well for our audience, but they also appeal to everyone from 2 to 50. We have a whole plan for a DVD release as well.

MediaWorks: We've seen Disney make stars out of the Jonas Brothers on Hollywood Records by using their music to promote their shows on-air. Now they're getting their own show on the Disney Channel next year. Is one of the goals with your new music group to develop new artists or perhaps some cross-promotion with Sony?

Mr. Cohn: You'll see some of our artists' albums put out with Sony. Much will be based upon programming and putting the music shows together, some are still to be determined. Sony has been an incredible partner to us. Coming from the major-label side, I see what can happen to a [production] partner. Hopefully we're on the other side of that. We're thrilled here and I think they're thrilled with us. So you'll definitely see some collaboration on albums between Nick and Sony.

MediaWorks: As we've learned this year, kids' albums are among the few that are still selling in large quantities. Do you think there's still plenty of room in the market for you guys to succeed?

Mr. Cohn: The whole music landscape has lots of love to give to kid-friendly stuff that sells. If you look at the American Idols and how well they do and that show does, it's an audience telling us they want more. Music is a huge, important part of our entire demo's life, from preschool to Nick to kids who watch The N, and that's what has really driven this deal.
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