Thursday, April 3, 2008

Interview: Steve Youngwood, EVP, Digital Media, MTVN Kids And Family: 1,600 Games For ‘08

Earlier this week, Nickelodeon said that it was developing 600 new games. Now the MTVN (NYSE: VIA)
unit is clarifying things a bit: it will host 1,600 new games across
its collection of kid-focused websites, 600 of which will be original.
Nickelodeon’s gaming library currently contains about 5,000 games, many
housed on AddictingGames, which came over to MTVN when its parent Viacom bought Atom Entertainment for $200 million in August 2006.

I spoke with Steve Youngwood, EVP, Digital Media, MTVN Kids and Family Group, about the the unit’s gaming push, which began last summer, when Nickelodeon pledged to invest $100 million in casual gaming through 2009.

-- Not a portal: “Our gaming approach is: we’re not a
portal business. We’re about targeting our audiences, and so, we break
out our web initiatives as well as our mobile efforts, for pre-schools,
kids, teen girls and teen boys. There’s some overlap there, but we try
to differentiate. The other big audience is made of up parents and
women. So we create destinations for each one of them. Our goal in the
world of search, where there are only about five sites that people
actually go to directly, we want to be on that short list. We love
search, but we believe we’re premium brands, premium destinations, and
our gaming philosophy flows from that.”

-- 1,600 games and counting: The number may seem like a
lot, but it’s all stemming from consumer demand - particularly teen
males, who always seem to want a new and different game. The company
hadn’t necessarily set out to meet a specific number, but as
Nickelodeon did more research, it found itself led to the 1,600 number.
Youngwood: “We look at what it means to be competitive and what the
audience wants. The pre-school audience doesn’t need as many new games,
but for the teen male audience, we launch about 100 games a month.
They want stuff that’s more disposable, quick in’s and out’s. Our
tagline for AddictingGames is ‘You think you’re going to play just
one.’ But 45 minutes later, you’re still there.’”

-- Looking outside: Another focus of its gaming strategy is
to allow more embeds on other sites. So far, AddictingGames users can
place games on other websites. Nickelodeon also wants to let users
email and other sharing methods. Youngwood: “We have one title on Xbox
Arcade. Simply put, wherever there’s a relevant platform, we will be
there: either mobile, Xbox Arcade, Wii-ware. All of these things are in
some form of development. We’re looking at Apple’s (NSDQ: AAPL) iPhone platform.” Nickelodeon, Facebook and MySpace applications.”

-- User-gen games: Users have always been able to upload
their creations on AddictingGames. But now, Nickelodeon is offering
some help for those users who don’t happen to be Flash programmers.
Nick and Shockwave - which also came over in the Atom acquisition - are
separately working on giving users game engine toolkits, each one
appropriate for its various audiences.

-- Virtual Worlds: Nick is currently developing three new
virtual worlds. These new sites are expected to be rolled out within
the next 18 months and will be aimed at kids 8- to 15-year-olds. They
will also likely be free similar to its 2.5D world Nicktropolis.

-- Mobile WAP sites coming: In tandem with the gaming
focus, Nickelodeon is also concentrating more heavily on mobile. The
company will be rolling out three mobile WAP sites over the next month.
The new mobile destinations are related to its Nickelodeon, The N and
ParentsConnect online brands, though the WAP versions will have
original content of their own. More details are available on our sister
site, MocoNews.

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