Extreme play aims younger

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Nickelodeon may have seemed an unlikely haven for extreme sports coverage, but Viacom's kids cable network has managed to put its own spin on the genre and spawn a program rich in marketing tie-ins.

"The extreme trend existed for the older kids [12 to 24], and we then served it up for younger kids and positioned it as extreme sports meets extreme friendship," says Leigh Anne Brodsky, Nick's senior VP-consumer products. Each episode of the animated "Rocket Power" is based on an extreme sport where friends share a passion like snowboarding, surfing or in-line skating. With much fanfare and publicity, superstar Tony Hawk-the Michael Jordan of skateboarding-will make a guest appearance on an upcoming episode.

The year-old "Rocket Power," from Klasky Csupo Productions, currently is ranked third among animated cable fare in ratings among kids ages 6 to 11, Nickelodeon says. The program carries a slew of promotional potential-from CD-ROMS and Sony PlayStation titles to apparel, equipment and package-goods tie-ins. It already has licensing deals with Hallmark Cards, Mattel, Mervyn's, Target Stores and THQ Software, among others. This summer, "Rocket Power" will be the official sponsor of Mervyn's "Beach Bash Kids' Universe," a four-day sports and music festival featuring elite volleyball and extreme athletes. The festival is expected to reach more than 60 million homes via ESPN and Fox Sports Net.

Two years ago, Nickelodeon launched a digital channel called Games And Sports that now touts 4 million subscribers and is focused on "celebrating the ways kids play." Be it board games, street games, organized sports or extreme sports, GAS covers the field and does heavy cross-promotion with the mother ship-including Web sites and quarterly magazine supplements.

"Much of the programming we do helps make action sports more accessible to kids," says Mark Offitzer, VP-general manager of GAS. "We try to bring them along and encourage their participation a little bit more."

In fact, GAS currently is developing its own kid-oriented style of ESPN's X Games. The games, due in 2002, will be Nickelodeon's own version of extreme competition for its audience. "We're thinking it wouldn't be so much individual competition but more kids' skill-based team competition-perhaps with obstacle courses," says Mr. Offitzer.

GAS boasts sponsors such as the milk campaign of Dairy Management Inc. and the National Fluid Milk Processor Education Program and Nabisco Biscuit Co. "We follow more of a sports sponsorship model than a typical TV advertising model," he says.

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