Nickelodeon to Launch Nicktropolis

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Nickelodeon tomorrow plans to launch a new online virtual community - Nicktropolis. The free site will allow kids to create personal avatars and then chat, play games and watch video with each other. The virtual world builds upon Nickelodeon's current broadband site, TurboNick, and comes just weeks after kids media competitor Disney announced a relaunch of its own website with gaming and other features on a single screen.

Nicktropolis will focus on personalization, prompting community members to create a digital version of themselves - or an "avatar" - and customize its hair color, clothing and other features. Kids can then navigate through four main destinations: the "Pier," a gaming zone; "Nicktoons Boulevard," an area of the network's cartoon characters; "Downtown Nicktropolis," a Main St.-esque communal space; and "Nickname Lane," an area where each kid user can create and fill his/her own digital room.

At a time when parents are growing ever more wary of their kids' experiences online, Nick made safety of paramount concern when planning the new site, said Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group President Cyma Zarghami, in announcing the site.

To that end, company has implemented a bevy of parental controls. The site will have a "report" button for alerting operators of questionable behavior as well as continuous monitoring, a kid-appropriate dictionary and the option to disable kids from chatting with anything other than pre-prepared responses.

Also, to register for the site, kids must create a "Nickname," which in part entails submitting a parent's e-mail address. The parent is then e-mailed with an alert that their child has joined the site. Because registration does not allow children to divulge personal information that could identify them, it is compliant with COPPA, the Federal Trade Commission's Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

"We always want to make sure we do it in a place that's obviously fun, but also safe and age appropriate," Zarghami said of creating new experiences for kids.

Nick launched the site in part to respond to proprietary research showing that 90% of kids have a PC in the home -  50% with a broadband connection - and 86% participate in online gaming. Indeed, as kids spend more time online, competition for their attention is heating up. In announcing a planned relaunch for Disney.com, Disney CEO Bob Iger called the initiative "the single most important, companywide strategy Disney is currently implementing."

Nickelodeon has steadily been building its own offering of online games. The company relaunched its broadband site, TurboNick, last fall with expanded gaming options, as well as mashups and user-created playlists. The company also acquired casual gaming sites Shockwave.com and AddictingGames.com, as well as buying popular virtual world Neo Pets.

MTV Networks has seen some success with another foray into virtual worlds, Virtual Laguna Beach. The site, a spin-off of MTV's reality show Laguna Beach, launched in Sept. and amassed 300,000 members within about 10 weeks, according to published reports.

TurboNick, Nickelodeon's broadband site, generated 255 million streams in 2006, up 600% from the year before, Zarghami said.

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