Buyers and sellers of kids advertising time pulled an all-nighter in early February to lay down some $725 million of upfront ad commitments for the 1996/97 television season, a healthy six to seven percent increase from a year ago.
With the new kids schedules announced the week before the upfront market, the fall season of children’s television is now in place. Money followed viewership trends with dollars shifting to kids programmers that have shown the best growth and promise more of the same: Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Kids WB.
The big broadcasters in kidvid Fox Children’s Network, ABC, CBS saw a decline in the dollars committed to them, though not by as much as their ratings fell.
Strong demand, even in the face of declining broadcast ratings, buoyed the cost per thousand (CPM) that advertisers paid by anywhere from 12 to 18 percent at these networks. Fox got increases at the higher end of that range by virtue of its position as the dominant kids broadcaster.
The upstarts in kidvid stole the spotlight this year. ‘Money is shifting big-time,’ says Julie Friedlander, senior VP at Ogilvy & Mather, which d’es some buying for Mattel among others. It has to, she adds, considering how the ratings pie was resliced among kids programmers this year.
‘Money is moving from Saturday morning to run of schedule,’ says Tom Horner, media director on the Tyco account, which has been handled by the Bozell agency, but is in the process of being reassigned (see page 7).
‘Kids have clearly identified with channels that carry kids programs all day it’s like their home base and Saturday morning has become a lot less important to kids,’ adds Horner.
The best estimate is that Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and WB increased their upfront bookings by about $60 million. The overall upfront market grew by perhaps $40 million this year, so the newer kids on the block nabbed that entire increase and swiped a few dollars from more established competitors as well.
With its spectacular 40 percent ratings gain, Nickelodeon tried to position itself as the ‘base buy’ for advertisers. Ad buyers (not to mention competitors) are impressed by Nick’s emergence this year as a true powerhouse, but many national advertisers have resisted making the cable network their primary vehicle. Nick only reaches 70 percent of U.S. homes, and in such top markets as Chicago, Dallas and Houston, its penetration is closer to 50 percent.
Cartoon Network, which doubled its households in 1995 to 25 million, is said to have increased its ad billings by 50 percent, to an estimated $30 million.
And WB, which launched its kids block just last September, doubled its ad count, to $45 million, pulling closer in CPM to ABC and CBS. ‘We decided not to try to catch up all in one season,’ says Jed Petrick, WB’s head of ad sales. ‘We’re on this growth curve. It was a fun market.’
In contrast, ABC and CBS each wrote about $45 million in upfront business, about 10 percent less than last year.
Fox, which suffered a ratings crash of 30 to 40 percent this season, wrote about $170 million, down about $30 million.
Feeding that seven percent increase in demand was a sizable jump in ad spending by fast food companies, notably by Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, all of which are trying to develop their kids meal businesses.
But fast food was the only category to make a ripple in the market, say ad buyers. As for the all-important toy companies, says Ogilvy’s Friedlander, ‘toy budgets were exactly like their Christmas season a mixed bag.’
In a fast-paced market such as this, advertisers can’t really target individual shows too much. ‘You get a package of shows,’ explains Bozell’s Horner, ‘and you skew it toward what you think will work.’ Buyers have seen at most only brief clips of the new shows, and the fluky nature of kids properties makes predicting the ‘next big thing’ a crapshoot. Still, a few programs elicited high hopes among buyers, and some key programming trends emerged.
Fox’s Goosebumps was the biggest new kids hit of the year, and kids experts are waiting to see how big this property will get. Hasbro featured several Goosebumps lines at Toy Fair last month. Fox will shift the show from Friday afternoons to Saturday mornings this fall. Moving a hit is always a gamble, but Saturday offers a bigger potential audience and more opportunity for parents to ensure their tinier tots (age six and under) don’t tune in to this genuinely creepy show.
As always, imitation is the sincerest form of television: both ABC and CBS have Goosebumps knockoffs titled Bone Chillers and Cryptkeeper’s Haunted House, respectively.
At 10 a.m. on Saturdays, Goosebumps will face off against the much-anticipated Superman on WB. This won’t be a head-to-head matchup down the line, though, since about one-third of WB’s kids coverage on the weekends comes from Sunday morning slots.
The Warner Bros. studio has been long preparing to relaunch this superhero franchise, with a souped-up toy line from Kenner (which also handles Batman) already on shelves. WB is producing 65 episodes, as the weekly series will become a Monday through Friday strip in 1997.
WB reports that clients are already asking about hooking into the network’s promotional plans for the series, which launches with a 90-minute prime-time movie. Plans are already afoot for a Superman feature film for summer ’97.
One show that needs no introduction to kids, or to most kids anyway, is Doug. A mainstay of the Nick lineup, fresh episodes of the show will air on ABC this fall.
By no small coincidence, ABC’s new owner, Walt Disney Co., is completing negotiations to acquire the show’s producer, Jumbo Pictures, in the first of many expected moves to enlarge the studio’s stable of TV animation talent.
Observers expect that a Saturday morning network perch, the show’s high profile with cable kids and Disney’s marketing muscle will combine to make Doug bigger than ever.
It should surprise no one that five of the six new shows on ABC’s Saturday morning schedule are owned or funded by Disney. Likewise, seven of the eight shows on WB’s slate are produced by Warner Bros. Television Animation.
With major producers looking to acquire distribution outlets, it’s clear that vertical integration is the hottest trend of all in children’s television.