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This year's fashionable preschooler will be wearing white-earbuds, that is.

The ubiquitous iPod is finding an ever-younger fan base. What started out as a must-have for 20- and 30-something hipsters is today most popular with teens and even pre-teens. People age 12 to 17 are twice as likely as adults to visit iTunes, according to a new Nielsen/Netratings survey. Now, with Tunes video taking off, a plethora of content beckons the Barney generation.

Parents seeking to entertain their youngsters are snapping up iTunes' latest fodder, such as "SpongeBob Squarepants," which jumped to No. 95 on Apple's Top 100 list within a week of the Nickelodeon program appearing in the iPod video repertoire.

"We know kids want iPods and while kids aren't [Apple's] core demo today, it will expand," said Steve Youngwood, senior VP-entertainment products for Nickelodeon. "I know from our discussions with Apple that was one of the appeals-they didn't have any preschool content."

There's no hard and fast estimate of how many of kids' allowance dollars are finding their way into Apple's pocket, but for anecdotal evidence look no further than Gabriella, Troy, Ryan, and Sharpay. The quartet isn't a hot new band, or even real people, they're the lead characters in a made-for-TV Disney Channel movie called "High School Musical." And their movie soundtrack has been the No. 1 selling album on iTunes for three weeks now. Three of their individual songs hover on the top 10 daily hit list.

The teen-trickledown effect is coming as iPod ownership becomes more feasible from a price standpoint, said Michael Wood, VP at Teenage Research Unlimited. "But once you get it, an iPod is only as appealing as what's on it. The next step is that these kids are hungry for content," he said.

"I'm surprised at this stage of the game that there isn't more involvement by marketers."

"High School Musical" did include a tie-in with General Mills, which sponsored the movie and a marketing platform that included a "special code" to download a free song at

`Perfect media storm'

Walt Disney Records released the soundtrack on iTunes Jan. 10, almost two weeks before the movie premiered on Jan. 20 to 7.7 million viewers (besting even Fox's "American Idol" with kids aged 6 to 11.)

"We were able to take advantage of this perfect media storm. Kids who are tech savvy got their iPods for Christmas and they had gift cards burning a hole in their pockets. And the catalyst for this storm was this movie," said Gary Marsh, president-entertainment at Disney Channel Worldwide.

Analyst Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research said Apple's genius has been to make sure the iPod is synonymous with MP3 player, and now is doing the same for that younger audience by appealing to both the kids and parents with quality content.

"IPod is an increasingly pervasive factor for more than just a specific generation. It really does scale both up and down," he said. "It's a very nascent market, and we'll continue to see more and more marketing as it grows."

More than one way

"In the past there was one way to reach kids and you bought it and moved on," said Tricia Wilbur, senior VP-sales and promotion, Disney ABC Cable Networks Group. "That's not the case anymore."

Because the more expensive video iPod was only launched in October and Disney's kid content was added only last month, there's no real breakout for kid-friendly iPod content sales yet. Nevertheless, some of the programs have broken into iPod's top 100, such as two episodes of Nickeloden's "Zoey 101" (at Nos. 18 and 96).

Kids "are not necessarily leaders, because of price-point issues," said Mr. Youngwood, "but in the cellphone industry the fastest-growing segment is ages 10 to 14, and I assume it would be a faster segment for Apple."

So could SpongeBob's signature silhouette replace that of Eminem and Wynton Marsalis in iPod's famous advertising? Stay tuned: An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment when asked whether the company might aim younger in its marketing.

How iTunes helped "High School Musical"

* 23,753 digital albums

* No. 1 album on iTunes

* No. 1 reviewed album on iTunes (over 4,000 reviews)

* 3 tracks in iTunes top 10 singles

* 9 tracks in iTunes top 100 singles

* 339,810 single tracks sold last week alone (411,149 life to date)

1. nearly half these sales were digital

Source: SoundScan

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