Diary Of A Cord Cutter In 2015 (Part 7: Hands On With Noggin, Nick’s New Kid-Friendly Streaming Service)

Earlier this year, Viacom -owned kids’ network Nickelodeon announced its plans to enter the subscription video market with its own over-the-top streaming service aimed at the preschool crowd. Called Noggin, the service launched this March on iOS with a decent selection of titles, including a few popular names from the kids TV market, like “Blue’s Clues.”

The question now for parents is whether or not Nick’s entry is worth the additional investment, especially when many today are already paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime (which includes Prime Instant Video), and possibly Hulu.

Note: This is part 7 of an ongoing series of articles about cord-cutting in 2015. You can read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5 and Part 6 here. 

As a recent cord cutter myself, I’m continually evaluating the increasing number of new options catering to those who are ditching their cable TV subscriptions in favor of streaming services and connected devices like Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast and more. I personally subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Hulu, and HBO NOW, which gives me more than enough content to watch. Plus, I have a digital antenna hooked up for my rare live TV needs.

But since I’m also the parent of a five-year old, I was definitely intrigued by the idea of a streaming video service that’s designed exclusively for younger kids.

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Exclusive (Not Premium) Content

Unfortunately, Nickelodeon’s strategy with Noggin is not to offer a full lineup of the Nick Jr. network’s programming over-the-top, but to serve as something of a complement to its flagship streaming video application, Nick Jr. That app offers a handful of TV episodes to all users, then allows those who pay for a cable TV subscription to unlock additional episodes by authenticating using their credentials from their TV provider.

For Noggin, though, what this means is that Nick Jr’s most beloved kids’ characters and shows, like Dora, Diego, PAW Patrol, Max & Ruby, Peter Rabbit, Bubble Guppies, Wallykazam, Wonder Pets, Yo Gabba Gabba, and many others aren’t available in the new app for cord cutters.

Instead, Nickelodeon has stocked Noggin with lesser-known, older brands, like Pocoyo, Franklin & Friends, Ni-Hao, Kai-lan, Robot & Monster and more. There are also music videos and episodes from “Moose & Zee,” who kids might recognize as the characters who do the educational bits in between Nick Jr.’s television shows.

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In other words, for $5.99 per month (compare with Netflix’s $8.99 per month), Noggin isn’t offering Nick’s premium content. That makes its price point feel a little steep, in my opinion. I think even knocking a dollar of the cost would make me more comfortable with the option, as I could justify the expense by saying it was either this or one more Starbucks latte this month.

The App Store reviews are also brutal on this point – the parents don’t seem to understand Noggin is a subscription service to begin with, and expect free content. They then give it a 1 star review when they realize you have to pay. Those who do understand its a subscription service seem to think that $5.99/mo is too high.

In addition, the shows themselves came across as a little fuzzy (see screenshot), even over a strong home Wi-Fi connection, hinting at problems on Nick’s end.

The Line-Up

That being said, with 16 sections (shows and music) to choose from, each with dozens of videos to watch, there’s a lot in Noggin for kids to explore. Plus, it could be that it’s parents who place more value on the draw of the premium brands. Kids are often happy to watch unknown cartoons and shows with characters they don’t recognize, simply because they’re new.

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In fact, during tests this month, my daughter spent hours watching what I had first thought was Nick’s attempt to create additional content for its streaming service on the cheap. There’s a Noggin show called “Oobi” where the characters are just people’s hands with little eyeballs attached to the knuckles to give them a puppet-like feel. The characters talk in simplified speech and act out things like going camping, eating vegetables, getting a puppy, washing up, and more.

As it turned out, Oobi is actually an old show that ran from 2004-07. In fact, most of the titles come from the old Noggin network, which was later rebranded Nick Jr. The app is basically tapping into the archive of these rarely aired and cancelled shows, adding the newer Moose & Zee episodes, and then trying to make a buck.

The current shows in Noggin include: Allegra’s Window, Blue’s Clues, Blue’s Room, Franklin and Friends, Gullah Gullah Island, Jack’s Big Music Show, Little Bear, Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends, Ni-Hao, Kai-lan, Oswald, Pocoyo, Robot & Monster, The Upside Down Show, and Moose & Zee.

Settings And Controls

A protected parents’ area in the app allows an adult to configure various settings like whether to stream over Wi-Fi or cellular, and lets them turn off additional sounds like the background navigational sound effects or music, for example. (Whew, thank you.)

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But there’s no need to configure parental controls like on Netflix, because all the content on Noggin is kid-friendly. However, there’s also no option to configure time limits, in case you want to limit your child’s time watching videos. (Arguably, parents who need this option can just…you know…parent, instead.)

There’s also something to be said for the comfort of knowing all the shows are kid-safe. That’s a problem that’s been plaguing YouTube Kids in recent days, even sparking complaints to the FTC. And Hulu offers a kids section, but lacks parental controls, which means I found my five-year old watching Cartoon Networks’ “Adventure Time” this week, much to my horror. That show, rated TV-PG, is meant for kids twice her age!

Noggin Vs. Netflix, Amazon And Hulu

If Noggin was just a little cheaper, I think I’d keep it around. But adding a fifth paid option to my streaming service line-up when it doesn’t include the Nick Jr.’s best content is not something I want to do long-term.

Noggin ($5.99/mo) today competes with the major players, Netflix ($8.99/mo), Amazon ($99/year) and Hulu ($7.99/mo), which each have been growing their own kids’ content selections, as well as with free services like YouTube Kids. Netflix has been expanding its kids’ lineup, including rebooting shows its paying subscribers will remember from their own childhoods, like Inspector Gadget, Full House, Danger Mouse, and Care Bears, for example. And through a deal with Dreamworks, it has a number of spin-off shows based on Dreamworks’ movie franchises.

Hulu has also more recently bet on kids’ programming and just scored a notable deal for Disney Jr. content. Plus, Hulu already has a deal which makes it the only streaming video-on-demand service to offer current seasons of Nickelodeon content – yes, the good stuff like Spongebob.

Amazon, meanwhile, is investing more in original kids’ programming via its Amazon Studios arm. It also has rights to some Nickelodeon/Nick Jr. content thanks to a deal with Viacom, which came about when Netflix chose to allow its deal to expire. That means that parents looking for Nick Jr.’s best kids’ shows can already get those through a larger streaming service – which happens to give the grown-ups something to watch, too.

That makes it hard to justify the expense associated with Noggin. However, if your cord-cutting mix includes only Netflix, for example, or your child is still very young (Noggin’s shows are definitely more “baby-ish” than Hulu’s), it could be worth the added expense.

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