March or early April is the expected time for this year’s kid’s upfront to break, according to Gail Heaney, senior partner and group media director at J. Walter Thompson L.A. ‘We think it will be late,’ agrees senior partner and media director Mark Rice at Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide. ‘Historically it broke earlier, but things are moving slower now,’ he adds. Although this suspense is something broadcasters and cablers have come to dread, most media execs see it as a positive development.
‘It usually happens right after Toy Fair, but last year it didn’t really break until April,’ notes Heaney, who attributes last year’s delay to two factors which are still weighing heavily this year: Nickelodeon’s negotiations to renew two-year ad contracts, and a general increase in inventory, thanks to newly emerging kids channels such as Fox Family and others. ‘I think Nick will continue that [two-year] strategy, and ABC is doing really well,’ says Heaney. ‘There are more options out there, so everyone waits, checking to see what the marketplace will do and what properties come in.’ Rice adds, ‘We see no need to rush because there’s less demand and more inventory.’
More choices for buyers spells less power for the players who have traditionally called the shots at the upfront, says John Marson, associate media director at Foote, Cone & Belding in Chicago. ‘I think with Fox Family Channel (which spawned the Boyz and Girlz Channels) and Disney’s One Saturday Morning doing well, all of this new inventory is going to make it more of a buyers’ market. The likes of Nickelodeon will not have as much of a stranglehold as in the past.’