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Germany’s kidcasters get ready for a toon TV invasion

The German kids broadcasting market is about get a little more crowded this month as Nick straps on its lederhosen and takes a second stab at succeeding with a 24-hour kids channel in the region. And with Cartoon Network launching a six-hour Saturday morning block on Kabel 1 (fueling rumors that a full channel launch is in the works for 2006), everyone's curious to see whether veteran domestic kidnets such as Super RTL and KI.KA will be able to shut down the newbies and hang onto their considerable marketshare.
September 1, 2005

The German kids broadcasting market is about get a little more crowded this month as Nick straps on its lederhosen and takes a second stab at succeeding with a 24-hour kids channel in the region. And with Cartoon Network launching a six-hour Saturday morning block on Kabel 1 (fueling rumors that a full channel launch is in the works for 2006), everyone’s curious to see whether veteran domestic kidnets such as Super RTL and KI.KA will be able to shut down the newbies and hang onto their considerable marketshare.

Launching on September 12, Nick Germany will take up residence in the broadcast stream previously occupied by MTV2. Its initial reach will be around 30 million German households, meaning the nation’s 8.6 million kids under age 13 should have no trouble finding it. The channel’s program director, Markus Andorfer, expects to average a 5% share of three- to 13-year-olds at launch, and his goal is to double that figure by year two.

But the real trick will be stealing viewers away from competing outlets, some of which still pull their biggest ratings with programming from Nick’s production arm. Super RTL, for example, routinely attracts a huge audience with SpongeBob SquarePants, and its license for the toon doesn’t expire until 2009.

To trigger some audience migration, Andorfer plans to push the exclusive availability of new Nick shows such as Danny Phantom, Avatar and Chalk Zone – all of which will make their free-to-air German debuts on Nick this season. And he’ll also be offering special viewing events for popular series including SpongeBob.

Nick Germany will kick its broadcast day off with a preschool block from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., anchored by tried-and-true hits such as Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues (which has been number-one in its 8:30 a.m. time slot on Super RTL for the past three years). Animation for kids six to 12 fills out the afternoon and after-school schedule. And evenings will be devoted to teen and tween live-action comedies such as Drake and Josh and Unfabulous – until the channel switches over to an older 14-plus target and its Nick Comedy branding at 9:15 p.m.

For the first year, roughly 10% of the net’s programming will be produced locally, though Andorfer hopes to grow that commitment to between 20% and 25% by the end of next year. Most of the domestic shows will be co-produced, and Nick is already working on two new series for next year. While Andorfer says it’s too early to talk about these projects, he did reveal that one will be a science-themed live-actioner, and he plans to plug it into a weekend morning slot to draw in a family audience. However, since cartoons win biggest with German kids, animation will be his main focus. Until the new local shows are ready to debut, Andorfer is boosting the channel’s regional flavor with interstitials and show trailers featuring local kids.

In order to flesh out his schedule for ’06, Andorfer is looking to acquire between five and eight more series. He’s particularly interested in classic cartoons that will appeal to nostalgic parents and modern kids, as well as animation for tween girls. Series aimed squarely at four- to seven-year-olds, such as Nelvana’s Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends, are also high up on his buying priority list. ‘This type of programming is a little bit difficult to find, but it’s important for audience flow into cartoons around mid-day,’ he says.

And lastly, live-action series may represent one area where Nick can take a stand against its rivals since the genre doesn’t currently feature prominently on the German kids market. Andorfer is especially keen to see dramas for girls between nine and 13.

This latest incarnation of Nick Germany was preceded by a channel that folded in 1998, after three years on-air with an average audience share of 8%. Andorfer explains that Nick was unable to convert its market share into ad sales last time around, but things should be different now that Viacom has a local sales team devoted to selling Nick already on the ground in Germany. Plus, he adds that Nick will initially be offering a lower pricing scale on its ad time to attract clients.

But Super RTL managing director Claude Schmit is confident that Nick won’t represent a significant threat to his channel, which beams into 95% of German homes, reaches 31.8% of the country’s three to 13 demo on average, and dominates the domestic kids TV ad market. He thinks the channel will have a bigger impact on smaller nets such as RTL2 and Kabel 1′s kids block, both of which net between 8% and 10% market share. ‘For advertisers, Nick will be an optimizing channel to generate additional reach, but Super RTL will remain the primary way to reach children,’ he says.

Christof Baron, CEO of media planning agency MindShare Germany, says Nick’s entry won’t really affect his ad-buying strategies for kid clients that include Mattel, PlayStation and Kraft until the net’s market share hits at least 10%. However, it would give him more leverage during negotiations. And in the longer term, Baron says advertisers would stand to gain if an upstart channel were to shake things up and loosen Super RTL’s firm grip on 85% of kids TV advertising revenues in Germany. But he adds that Nick will have to make sure its programming has a more German-centric feel in order to be successful this time around.

Heavy marketing is another prong in Nick’s strategy to carve out a German audience, and the plan calls for on-line contests, a major outdoor advertising campaign, cross-promo spots directing traffic from Viacom’s other channels (VIVA and MTV) and activities and booths at German theme parks such as Legoland and Warner Bros. Movie World. The goal is to play on kids’ pre-existing familiarity with Nick’s hit properties, so messaging will run along the lines of ‘SpongeBob is coming, and he’s bringing along his friends.’

But Super RTL isn’t about to let Nick lay claim to some of its highest-profile shows that easily. ‘We are going to do what we can to make it clear that Jimmy Neutron and SpongeBob are still with Super RTL,’ says Schmit with determination. Along with an outdoor ad campaign promoting these returning hits as part of its fall lineup, Super RTL is currently hosting an on-line vote-off (coinciding with Germany’s general election this month) to decide which TV hero should be the nation’s kids councillor. Candidates hail from four of the net’s most popular shows – music-themed magazine Banaroo, comedy toon What’s With Andy?, action-adventure series Dragon Hunters and science format Wow Die Enbeckerzone. The contest launched in August and generated 1.2 million hits in its first week and a half.

Although commercial-free KI.KA doesn’t have to worry about competing with Nick for ad dollars, staying top of mind is still an issue. And so head of acquisitions and co-productions Sebastian Debertin says the net will also be ramping up its marketing efforts this year with an increased focus on the web, merchandising and outdoor events such as the KI.KA Summer Tour, a free travelling show featuring the channel’s live hosts.

In terms of maintaining its edge on the programming front, Super RTL is refreshing its fall lineup this year with several new shows, including preschool fitness phenomenon LazyTown. And leaning more heavily on its access to the library of channel shareholder Disney, Super RTL plans to roll out ratings winners such as Dave the Barbarian, W.I.T.C.H. and Kim Possible. Schmit says there will also be a renewed focus on proprietary live action to draw in tweens who have grown out of animation. Upcoming highlights from this genre include sports show Toggo United: The Football School, a German version of America’s Funniest Home Videos and a German Idol magazine show that will run in conjunction with the talent-finding format on RTL.

For his part, Debertin is hoping to boost KI.KA‘s 14.3% marketshare this year by promoting strong local content such as 45-year-old classic bedtime show Sandman, increasing the net’s co-production activity by 150%, and shaking up the net’s dayparts.

KI.KA’s sked will break down into three new blocks this month to narrow in on preschoolers, the six to nine set and tweens. Each one sports a very unique look, but still incorporates elements of the larger umbrella brand. ‘This allows us to address each age group in its own language without fragmenting our channel into sub-brands as Nick and Cartoon Network are doing in the U.S.,’ explains Debertin.

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