Nickelodeon recently announced that it is now the ‘highest-rated kids programmer’ on the air, noting that this is the first time a cable service has clearly outperformed the networks, albeit in a specific demographic. However, Nick’s claim to the number one spot with kids is qualified by Fox Kids Network, especially when it comes to the coveted Saturday morning block.
While Fox Kids concedes that Nick is number one with kids overall, the broadcaster is quick to point out that on Saturday mornings, the network’s current 4.5 overall Saturday morning rating beats out Nick’s rating, estimated at between 4.3 and 4.1, among the two to 11 demographic.
‘If you look at Saturday morning, for the season, we are number one,’ says Maureen Smith, senior vice president of programming and scheduling at Fox Kids Network.
As for Nick’s overall lead, Smith acknowledges that, until Fox moves into prime-time kids programming, there is no way for the network to compete head-to-head. While Nick has all day, every day, including prime time, to reach kids, Fox Kids programs to kids only 19 hours per week.
‘Of course, there’s the difference of our number of hours per week,’ acknowledges Cyma Zarghami, general manager of Nickelodeon and senior vice president of programming for Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite. ‘That’s a big difference.’
Zarghami says Nick is not so concerned about being number two on Saturday morning because that is an area where kids already have ample viewing choices.
‘[Nickelodeon's] priority this year is prime time. We really believe we should be in places where kids are underserved.’
Along with prime time, underserved day parts that Nick has targeted for kids include Sunday morning and Saturday night, according to Zarghami.
Both Nick and Fox agree that, generally speaking, Fox reaches an older-skewing demo.
‘There are different ways you can look at the kids demographic,’ Zarghami notes. ‘In many of [Fox Kids] press releases, they say they target two to 17.’ Nickelodeon, however, always uses the two to 11 demographic as its target.
Indeed, Fox Kids’ Saturday morning lineup outscores Nick with older kids, according to network sources. In the six to 11 demographic, Fox logs a 5.0 versus Nick’s 4.5 rating; and with kids age six to 17, Fox Kids edges out Nickelodeon’s 2.6 rating with a 3.8. (Ratings quoted were taken from the weeks of August 23 and September 6.) Surprisingly, some Fox Kids shows garner a 40 percent adult audience share.
‘Parents don’t just park kids in front of the set and walk out of the room,’ Smith says, citing a study commissioned by the network that found that parents watch Fox Kids with their kids.
By contrast, Nickelodeon has always marketed itself as a ‘just for kids’ location. ‘We strove to make kids feel like they own NickÑthat they are part of what makes it great,’ says Zarghami.
Despite their dominance in a key time slot, Fox Kids executives acknowledge that Nickelodeon has been gaining on their network. ‘Nick has grown tremendously. Their numbers [supporting the `number one with kids' claim] are accurate, but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison,’ says Smith.
Nickelodeon began programming to kids in prime time in October 1996, a move that sealed the cable service’s standing with kids. Nick outperformed the networks during the 8 to 8:30 p.m. time slot four out of seven nights among kids age two to 11, according to channel sources. The Rugrats series alone is viewed by a total audience of 20 million each week, making it the most-watched kids show on the air.
Fox Kids is not planning to be in the number two position for long, however. Fox Broadcasting’s acquisition of the Family Channel is expected to answer the challenge of competing with Nick.
‘Right now, since Fox Kids is also programmed locally [and frequently pre-empted on weekdays] with news, we’re kind of like a little island on the network. When we have a full-time cable outlet, we’ll be able to be on whenever they’re on,’ says Smith. ‘We recognize the value of being on so many hours per day. That’s why we’re getting into the cable business.’