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Verizon preps interactive My Nickelodeon Junior channel

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Verizon (NYSE: VZ) plans to launch an interactive version of Viacom's (NYSE: VIA) Nickelodeon Junior later this year that will allow parents to craft personalized programming lineups from live and on-demand versions of preschool programs such as "Mike The Knight" and "Yo Gabba Gabba," a source confirmed Wednesday.

The interactive network will debut on FiOS TV, running adjacent to the linear version of Nick Jr. But Verizon said it plans to expand distribution for "My Nick Junior" to smartphones and tablet computers as it looks to fend off competition from online video rivals Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) and Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX).

"It's a way you can quash the momentum of over-the-top players in the marketplace. There's no reason they should own that space--we should own that space," Terry Denson, Verizon VP of content strategy and acquisition, said in an article published by The Wall Street Journal Wednesday.

Viacom, which said it is looking to license My Nickelodeon Jr. to other pay TV distributors, faces increased competition from Walt Disney Co.'s (NYSE: DIS) Disney Junior and Sprout. In November, Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) subsidiary NBCUniversal announced that it struck a deal to take full ownership of Sprout.

Nickelodeon also faces increased competition from Amazon, which is beginning to produce original kids' programs. In January 2013, Amazon announced that it had hired Angela Santomero, creator of hit Nick preschool show "Blues Clues," to produce an "animated interactive art adventure series" for its streaming video subscribers.

According to the WSJ report, My Nick Jr. will allow parents to create customized programming lineups by selecting themes such as "get creative," "super-sonic science" and "word play." Viacom and Verizon didn't say which technology vendors they are working with to launch the interactive network.

It's worth noting that Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said in December that he expects a virtual multichannel video program distributor to debut in 2014, and there have also been reports that Viacom has licensed its cable networks to Sony for the virtual pay TV platform that it plans to begin testing later this year. The launch of My Nick Jr. channel on FiOS TV may be one way that Viacom could gauge how much demand it would see for networks that could be distributed on IP-connected devices.

For more:
- The Wall Street Journal has this story (sub. req.)

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