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Nickelodeon builds virtual community for kids

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Nickelodeon is getting into the virtual-community business.

MTV Networks' kid-centric powerhouse will on Tuesday launch Nicktropolis, an online environment for youngsters to chat, play games, and watch video amid branded properties.

In Nicktropolis, kids can customize the appearance of an avatar, the onscreen character with which they navigate a digital world complete with its own currency. The environment includes branded regions like Nicktoon Boulevard, where surfers can visit rooms inspired by such Nick shows as SpongeBob SquarePants and Danny Phantom. Avatars can interact with icons representing characters from the shows or cue up episodes for viewing.

Nicktropolis is a continuation of Nickelodeon's push in recent years into more interactive programming online. With the younger demos it targets emerging as the first generation to be as comfortable with the PC as the TV, Nick has put increasing emphasis on Nick.com and successive versions of a broadband player, TurboNick.

Nicktropolis also comes loaded with multiple means of parental control, including a foul-language filter and chat capabilities that require parents' approval.

Nicktropolis is not MTV Networks' first foray into virtual communities. The division's Music Group already has launched two such areas centered on two hit MTV series, Laguna Beach and The Hills.

Nicktropolis will launch without advertising, but it expects to incorporate marketers in myriad ways, according to Stephen Youngwood, executive vice president at Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids & Family Group.

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