Nickelodeon's Project Nozzle Gets Slimed

SAN FRANCISCO (01/27/2000) - Nickelodeon closed the Bay area office of its online unit last week, Nickelodeon Online President Fred Seibert confirmed Tuesday. Fifteen employees who had worked at the San Mateo, Calif., office of the children's cable channel are now either out of work or headed to New York.

The office did research and development for Nickelodeon's much anticipated "Project Nozzle" - a planned relaunch of Nick.com into a full-service children's community site.

Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon, announced Project Nozzle 11 months ago, along with MTV's "Buggles Project." MyNick.com, the heart of the project, launched in October and is being restructured. Seibert says feedback from the site's young visitors led the company to suspend the site, but the company plans to put the site back up in five to six weeks. "We need to rework some pieces of the puzzle," he says.

To bolster its relaunch effort, Nickelodeon acquired San Mateo-based Web development shop Nvolve, and reshuffled Red Rocket, a Viacom property that sells toys, into the new Nick.com digs. Nvolve became Nickelodeon Online's San Mateo-based technology and development group.

Nick.com continues to operate as a popular adjunct to the cable channel's programming. A press release Monday touted the launch of a new feature that enables kids to vote on the site to slime someone on the "Slime-U-Lator," as featured on the TV show Slimetime Live.

In February, Viacom developed the Internet-only company MTV Networks Online, which oversaw the online divisions of both Nickelodeon and MTV Networks. Six months later, MTV Networks Online launched MTV Interactive (MTVi). However, MTV Networks Online decomposed last winter into MTVi Group, which encompassed the music properties including VH1.com, and Nickelodeon Online. Both units were being groomed for an IPO later this year.

In a press release last week, Viacom announced that Nickelodeon Online had promoted Michael Fleshman from VP of technology to CTO, a position that had not previously existed there. An MTV Networks Online spokesperson said that the company was restructuring in order to bring the technology and creative offices together.

The confusion over Nozzle is not surprising, considering what happened to its twin project. After the word "Buggles" left Sumner Redstone's lips at a Viacom press conference last March, MTV Networks Online led the press and public through a series of baffling moves concerning its online music strategy. First the company bought the name "Super Music Network," with the idea of programming a music destination site that spanned many genres. Next, USA Today reported that MTV Networks Online was going with the catchy "Qwert.com" as the moniker for its new music site.

Neither of those plans came to fruition. MTV Networks Online bought a smaller competitor, SonicNet, and souped up all three sites before relaunching them.

Project Buggles turned out to be just a revamped version of Imagine Radio.

According to MTV Networks Online, that was how they'd planned it all along.

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