Get With the Program

Nickelodeon's "Play" promotes an active lifestyle

Turn off your TV. Go outside. Do something healthy. It takes a confident network to tell viewers to tune out, especially when its viewers are kids. But Nickelodeon, which launched its "Let's Just Play" campaign in 2003, knows that children need the push. They aren't outside playing as much as they could—or should. So the network is kicking them out.

And Nickelodeon isn't worried about their absence.

"When they choose their viewing time, they will come back to us," says Marva Smalls, Nick executive vice president of public affairs. "It's part of our DNA to connect with kids in all aspects of their lives." (Last year, "Let's Just Play" traveled to seven U.S. cities, where more than 50,000 kids spent the day in parks and playgrounds.)

This year's campaign, in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, travels to Fayetteville, Ark. (July 24); Syracuse, N.Y. (July 31); and Florence, S.C. (August). An on-air event is scheduled for October.

Schools are also part of the program.

"Let's Just Play," a newly established grant program, offers $500,000 in awards to schools and afterschool programs that create opportunities for physical play.

Why the big push? With budget cuts eliminating phys-ed classes in schools, coupled with suburban sprawl eating up bike paths, kids are spending too much time indoors. The lure of TV, plus computers and held-held games, contributes to a sedentary lifestyle. Of special concern, government studies note an alarming rate of obesity and disease in children.

In fact, according to network reports, there is a double-digit decrease in the amount of daily physical activity for American children. Nickelodeon's answer? Go play.

This summer's initiative began with "Be a Player" on-air spots. Viewers send in videos and photos demonstrating their favorite ways to be active. Each week, Nickelodeon names a "Player of the Week" and airs his or her video or photo. The network also runs several PSAs and interstitial spots, which have featured Denzel Washington, Hilary Duff, Clay Aiken and Wade Robson. Plus, Nick's Web site and Nickelodeon
magazine encourage kids to keep an activity journal and recommends activities.

Says Smalls: "Our connection to our audience has always extended beyond the broadcast signal."