MTV Networks' Nickelodeon will open a hub on America Online in August. Nick at Nite, Nickelodeon's adult programming service, will arrive on AOL sometime next month.
"Although probably every major kids entertainment company is represented somewhere online," said Lynn Lehmkuhl, Nickelodeon's publisher of new media, "I haven't seen a kids service that offers any real depth."
Using her two children, ages eight and 10, as her virtual "seeing-eye dogs," Ms. Lehmkuhl developed programming that she describes as "volatile, organic and very alive."
Nickelodeon promises at least two live online events a week, real-time chat lines, daily contests and user polling.
Nick at Nite targets families interested in mixing pop culture with classic TV. The site will include behind-the-scenes looks at famous TV shows, top 10 lists, online polling, archived photos and celebrity chats.
"Discussing who's more powerful, Jeannie from `I Dream of Jeannie' or Samantha from `Bewitched,' is something Nick at Nite fans would love to do online," said Ms. Lehmkuhl.
For Nick at Nite and Nickelodeon, the network will sell separate online sponsorships for $15,000 per month-with a three-month minimum buy. Sponsorships, hot-linked to advertisers' home pages either on AOL or the World Wide Web, will be rotated weekly through five content areas on each of the services.
For Nickelodeon those areas include Nickelodeon Magazine online; the Attitube, an online polling place; the Dump, a site for downloading Nickelodeon video clips and sound bites; the Game Domain, a storehouse of downloadable games; and the Auditorium, a forum for speakers and chats.
"Nickelodeon is a powerful and wonderful brand name with kids," said Erica Gruen, senior VP-strategic media resources at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York. "Given the quality and quantity of kids they already attract, they have a good chance at succeeding online, but that can't be proven for some time."
The AOL area isn't the first online stint for Nickelodeon, nor the last.
The network will continue to have a presence on Prodigy with programs called the Big Help, Nickelodeon's national campaign to empower kids to volunteer in community service, and U to U, a place where kids can submit story ideas for the cable show. Nickelodeon also plans to open its own Web site sometime next year as well as be a content provider on the upcoming Microsoft Network.
"We started [our flagship online program] with AOL because they're growing the fastest and their graphics are the most compelling," said Ms. Lehmkuhl. "We needed to start somewhere, but we're going to end up everywhere."
The entertainment company plans to promote its new service across all its holdings-Nickelodeon Magazine, its cable network, sister network MTV: Music Television (already on AOL), licensed products and through AOL.
"Nickelodeon doesn't use the spaghetti against the wall method when launching new things," said Rick Dellacquila, VP-advertising services at Mattel, a Nickelodeon licensing partner. "They understand what they have to lose or gain by doing this online service well or poorly."