As Nickelodeon readies to launch into prime time this fall, it is mulling its strategy for 1997 be it continued penetration into prime time, or a commitment to establish a presence in the very competitive Saturday morning arena or some other day part. It will base its decision on how to best meet its audience’s needs.
The practice of serving kids where they are being underserved has been Nickelodeon’s mission from the get-go. It was the strategy used when the channel launched Nick Toons on previously kid-unfriendly Sunday mornings in 1991, and SNICK, on Saturday nights, two years later. The same principle is being applied for the prime-time expansion this fall.
‘We believe the networks have abandoned kids and families in prime time,’ says Cyma Zarghami, senior vice president and general manager of Nickelodeon. ‘It’s a perfect time for us to be there.’
Nickelodeon will air a half-hour of original programming from 8:00 to 8:30 p.m. (ET) on weeknights, beginning October 7. Sunday night programming debuts in December.
Where the channel expands beyond this point is still unclear. Long-range strategic planning, usually made during the summer, may be put on hold until the fall, as the impact of its prime-time launch will dictate the direction the network will turn in 1997.
One of the day parts that Nickelodeon has considered for future expansion is Saturday mornings. ‘Saturday mornings are something that’s on our radar, but they’re not something that’s on our immediate planning schedule to go after,’ Zarghami says.
The channel has never aggressively programmed this traditional stronghold of the broadcast networks, but it receives very good ratings during this time slot nonetheless, even though it only airs reruns of shows like Rugrats, Doug and acquired properties from the Henson and Warner Bros. libraries. The question asked internally is: How much better would the channel do on Saturday mornings if it made an all-out effort?
Zarghami credits Nickelodeon’s healthy Saturday morning audience to brand loyalty. ‘I think the number of hours kids watch per week isn’t growing; it’s where they are watching that is shifting. The choices are more competitive,’ she says. ‘We have proven time and time again that by serving this audience consistently and loyally with stuff that they want and things we think are good for them, we’ve been able to be successful.’