Top Kids' Show "iCarly" is All About Tech
Lacing a show with blogs, text messaging, or any kind of new technology is the current formula for getting tweens and teens to tune in.
“Bad, bad tuna!” shouts Sam, the blonde tomboy in sneakers and leggings. She’s teaching iCarly viewers the proper way to spank a tuna fish. Carly, the hyperactive star of the show, looks on, slapping at air with enthusiasm.
The two begin jumping and jittering like coffee addicts in need of their Starbucks fix. Their next segment is a lesson for kindergarteners on America’s monuments, to “prove iCarly can be educational.” They present the “Statue of Gibberty,” a boy painted green. The “children,” as Carly calls them, stare in awe until Gibberty shouts and sends them running in terror out of the room.
“Now how about a hand for those kids we just emotionally scarred,” says Carly into the camera with a whimsical smile. Sam shouts in approval.
This zany segment is from the hit Nickelodeon TV show, iCarly. The star is a sardonic, charismatic teenage girl who lives with her brother and hosts a popular wacky web show with her two best friends.
Carly isn’t just queen of the Internet, she’s ruling the airwaves too: iCarly is number one with kids aged 2 to 11, regularly beating out the soon-to-be cancelled Hannah Montana. Nickelodeon has been building on the show’s hype with related merchandise: web cams, digital cameras, T-shirts, bedspreads, posters, mp3 players, remotes with sound effects and microphones.
“The characters on iCarly are sarcastic and funny, they have no parents to bug them — they are the cool kids with a dream life of popularity and adventure,” said Carey Bryson, of the About.com Guide to Kids’ Movies & TV. “Add to that footage of real kids and make it part of the program, and you’ve got something that kids are going to go crazy over.”
Bryson thinks the reason kids and teens love iCarly has a lot to do with the show’s web component. “Technology has become an integral part of kids’ social lives, so shows that portray social kids have to include things like cell phones, iPods and computers,” she said.
Incorporating Web shows, blogs, texts, or any new technology into a show is the current formula for getting tweens and teens to tune in.
Today young people aged 8 to 18 spend more than seven hours a day with media, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The introduction of iPhones and other mobile viewing devices has led to fewer kids watching live television. Between 2004 and 2009 watching TV declined by 25 minutes a day, meaning that 41 percent of young people watch shows online.
So, ever fewer kids and teens are watching programs on a television set. And the shows that they do watch live, according to the Nielson ratings, are shows like iCarly, which incorporate popular technology.
“The more you can be relevant to your audience and engage them across platforms, the better chance you have for ratings,” said Matthew Evans, senior vice President of Nick Digital, Nickelodeon Kids’& Family Group. In Evans’ experience, teens and tweens have come to expect digital extensions. “If you don’t have a digital offering for your shows, your audience will be disappointed.”
This isn’t really a new concept for Nickelodeon, which introduced the show Clarissa Explains It All in 1991. Clarissa Darling – a charismatic teen like Carly – was the lead character. And while she didn’t have a Web show or blog, Clarissa did have a fictional computer game, representing each episode’s issues. Clarissa’s computer gaming skills were top-notch and enviable to viewers.
Now the Internet and cell phones are part of teens’ and tweens’ daily lives. Hit shows like Gossip Girl take that into consideration. Gossip Girl’s original concept was that an anonymous blogger would spread gossip via text message and the Web, something teens could relate to. The first season of the series was a smash hit – and best of all teens didn’t have to wait for next week’s episode to read the latest Gossip Girl news. They could go to the official Web site and follow her real blog, not to mention re-watch episodes online.
iCarly has managed to pick up where Clarissa left off and step up where Gossip Girl missed out. The show uses the latest technology in its storylines, incorporates videos from real teens onto the show and sells an iCarly video game that allows viewers to create webisodes and help Carly, Sam, and Freddie with a Wii remote.
“The more successfully interactive show-related media is, the more kids can get into it and feel like they are a part of this perfect, fun and hip dream world their favorite characters reside in,” says Bryson.
iCarly’s Web site, which gets 50,000 to 100,000 hits a day, has zany graphics and funny photos. But it also has buttons that shake the entire page when clicked, a place for viewers to text Carly and her friends, and the chance for viewers to vote on whether another fan’s crazy video is “suckish” or “rocks.”
Evans, who noted that, for show creators, “it is less about technology and more about being relevant to what our audience is interested in and doing.”
Facebook, text messages, and twitter are all the rage right now, but whether or not future kids shows will incorporate tech depends upon their significance in the future. “Today, that means incorporating technology,” says Evans, “Tomorrow, it could be something else.”
Alessandra Hickson studies journalism at New York University.