For the kiddies, apps that teach

NEW YORK — In 2014, the preschool cable network Nick Jr. plans to introduce a television show featuring a little boy, his miniature pet dragon, and a magic stick.

But the show, ‘‘Wallykazam,’’ will not be new to users of smartphones and tablets. Educational applications built around it will start appearing in app stores late next year, making ‘‘Wallykazam’’ Nickelodeon’s first major show to be introduced as a mobile product first, said Steve Youngwood, Nickelodeon’s general manager for digital media.

Driving the change, at Nickelodeon and other preschool television brands, are parents who are increasingly putting mobile devices into preschoolers’ hands and laps.


According to research commissioned by Sesame Workshop, producer of PBS’ ‘‘Sesame Street,’’ mobile device ownership is booming as TV set ownership declines. Eighty-eight percent of the parents surveyed said they owned a television, down from 95 percent in 2010.

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Nickelodeon’s research, done in April and updated in October, shows striking growth in educational app use. In October, 27 percent of US households with children ages 3 to 5 had an iPad, up from 22 percent in April. Of those, 40 percent of preschoolers used the iPad for educational apps, up from 27 percent in April.

The study also found that Apple device users were willing to pay 15 to 23 percent more for educational apps than for general apps.

‘‘Parents want to feel good about what they are purchasing and downloading for their kids,’’ said Scott Chambers, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice president for digital worldwide distribution. Adding an educational element to an entertaining app, he said, ‘‘makes everybody feel better.’’

Parents’ feelings aside, apps are strong educational tools, said Lesli Rotenberg, who oversees PBS’s children’s programming, including its more than two dozen apps.


While television ‘‘is somewhat of a passive experience’’ for children, she said, interactive apps give them immediate feedback and tailored experiences that become more difficult as they gain skills.

Though numerous producers are entering the app business, three of the top 10 paid educational apps in the iTunes store last week were Nickelodeon’s. They included the $1.99 Bubble Guppies: Animal School Day, already profitable six weeks after its introduction, Nickelodeon said. A Team Umizoomi math app was still in the top 10 after a year on the market.

Originally scheduled for August release, the Bubble Guppies app, filled with the same silly jokes as the show, was revised after focus group testing with preschoolers showed, among other things, that their small fingers had a hard time maneuvering a virtual latch and that the children wanted more control over their exploration.

“We were hearing kids say in testing: ‘I want to play with the dolphin. I want to play with the penguin,’ ’’ said Jordana Drell, Nickelodeon’s senior director of preschool games.

Disney Junior has taken a less integrated approach to apps, developing television shows first and apps later to expand on the ­content, said Albert Cheng, executive vice president for digital media at the Disney/ABC Television Group.