Screenshot of juniornet.com on 2001-06-05
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JuniorNet was a subscription based online portal for children, which included games, email ('Steammail'), children-friendly chatrooms, etc. JuniorNet often distributed free promotional CD-ROMs of some of its software to schools and through software compilations and bundles.
JuniorNet "nearly became a victim of the dot-com downturn" when the company went bankrupt in 2001 and was acquired by former employees. The website remained virtually unchanged until around mid-2010 when the site was quietly shut down.
JuniorNet was founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1996 by Alan Rothenberg and officially launched in March 1999 as an "[ad-free] on-line learning service for children". The service was marketed mainly towards parents who were concerned about their children's safety online. The idea was that JuniorNet would provide a "safer [online] playground" for children, via its own proprietary network. Children would not only be protected from "seedy websites" and predators, but also from any advertisements.
JuniorNet offered games, stories, and other interactive content to their subscribers via CD-ROM and internet download, as well as providing email and screened bulletin boards. JuniorNet also had partnerships with various companies to provide new content to their users, such as Highlights, Sports Illustrated, and Ranger Rick magazine.
In April 1999, internet service provider RCN Corporation bought a 47.5% stake in JuniorNet Corporation for $47 million, with the intention of incorporating the service into its regular plan. Three VC firms also invested an additional $23 million total into JuniorNet. Concurrently, JuniorNet acquired one of RCN's subsidiaries, Lancit Media Entertainment, for $25 million. Lancit Media had been acquired by RCN in February 1998, as the company was having significant financial problems. At the time, Lancit Media produced several award winning TV shows, including Reading Rainbow and The Puzzle Place (Reading Rainbow later became a JuniorNet "Premier Partner", with LeVar Burton being named "company spokesperson".) Around the same time of acquiring Lancit Media, JuniorNet independently co-produced a children's television show called The Zack Files.
Buying Lancit Media helped JuniorNet get a deal with several PBS stations in June 2000, who were then struggling from government funding cutbacks. The deal involved these PBS stations getting an equity stake in JuniorNet (described as "a sliver" of the company) in exchange for promoting and distributing JuniorNet software and supposedly producing a JuniorNet TV show. Stations that agreed to promote JuniorNet would also receive $9.95 (the cost of the subscription per month) for each family the station recruited if the subscription lasted at least one year. (JuniorNet later used a similar payment model for their affiliate program.)
The PBS deal wasn't exactly popular. Critics accused the PBS stations of being "self-serving" and complained that the venture threatened the PBS stations non-commercialism and could lead to "conflicts of interests". PBS itself wasn't a part of the deal either and had "sensitivities" about a potential upcoming JuniorNet-funded season of Reading Rainbow via a limited partnership called "PTV VisionWorks". The supposed JuniorNet inspired show never came to be, probably partly due to PBS' strict guidelines.
Apparently neither the PBS deal nor Lancit Media's productions were very profitable for JuniorNet. In early 2000, at the peak of the dot-com bubble, JuniorNet's finances weren't looking very good: JuniorNet executives were looking for someone to buy-out or merge the company and RCN was getting concerned about the "ultimate recovery of its investment" as the "estimated future cash flows related to this investment indicated that an impairment of the full value had occurred".
In September 2000, JuniorNet announced that 45 elementary schools across the US would receive a free subscription to JuniorNet for the entire 2000-2001 school year, as part of a test to "find out more about how educators and students can use JuniorNet in a school setting." However, in December 2000, JuniorNet fired about a third of their workforce  and by August 2001, the JuniorNet Corporation was no longer in operation. (According to a former JuniorNet employee, the writing had been on the wall since around late 1999.) Responsibility for juniornet.com was taken over by J2 Interactive, a company founded by former JuniorNet employees, with RCN owning 23.5% equity in J2. Lancit Media was foreclosed back to RCN; RCN used Lancit Media to start RCN Entertainment, effectively ending the 23 year-old company.
After going under, JuniorNet continued to operate in a sort of corporate auto-pilot with virtually no changes to the website until 2010, when the site was quietly shut down. In 2007, JuniorNet's trademarks were canceled by the USPTO due to inactivity/non-payment. J2 Interactive went from being "creative media specialists" (as well as specializing in "cybercafe services" and "custom kiosks") to "healthcare technology consultants" sometime in the early 2010s.
On March 19, 2014, the domain name juniornet.com expired and was not renewed by J2 Interactive.
- JuniorNet Official Website (2010)
- JuniorNet v1.1 CD-ROM (1999)
- JuniorNet Demo Intro Video (1999)
- JuniorNet Web Demo Intro Video (~2002)
- JuniorNet Sample Games (Windows/Mac)
- Weekly Reader Magazine - Al Gore Presidential Student Q&A Interview