It seems as much as things change, the more they stay the same. Even though the kids Saturday morning broadcast landscape is undergoing a thorough overhaul, and programmers and marketing types are continuing to refine their strategies to tackle the emerging multi-platform universe, ad-buying trends remain consistent with last year’s.
Building on the inroads made in 2005 with non-traditional kids advertisers (such as Nickelodeon’s multi-platform deal with auto giant Dodge), kids cablenets and broadcasters are stepping up their focus on landing more automotive, travel and packaged goods accounts. But rather than pointing to kids increasing influence on major household purchases as the most compelling selling point this year, sales execs say families are spending more quality time with each other in front of the tube.
Co-viewing was, in fact, the buzzword making the rounds at the U.S. kids Upfront presentations this past spring. And its incidence dovetails nicely with the needs of travel and entertainment companies that are looking to promote activities such as family vacations and movie going that engender togetherness time.
In fact, a proposed increased take from the Hollywood studios may lead to a market upswing in the coming season across several sectors. Family-targeted movie releases are on the rise, and although it’s been reported the box office has been dropping over the past few years, that only spells an increase in marketing budgets. Dan Barnathan, 4Kids Entertainment executive VP of marketing and promotion, says a healthy movie market has a positive trickle down effect on other categories, with movie licensees (gamecos, QSRs and toycos in particular) bumping up their adspend to boost product sales.
Barnathan thinks the potential revenue expected to come in from the movie biz’s marketing budget, and not the changing terrestrial broadcast landscape, will have the biggest impact in the coming months.
Nickelodeon dangles the
emerging platform carrot
The number one kids network for kids two to 11 is following the lead of its multi-tasking audience to cultivate original content and construct ad packages. It’s no secret that kids are tapping away on computer keyboards and mobile phones while seated in front of the TV, and Nick’s new multi-screen strategy is aiming to appeal to this burgeoning video democracy. ‘Kids are becoming platform agnostic,’ president Cyma Zarghami says. ‘They want great content on whatever platform happens to be most accessible to them.’
Nick intends to create a seamless multimedia environment for the net’s content and viewership, where movement between TV, broadband and eventually mobile is fluid. The cablenet is even using alternative media arenas as development hothouses for series. For example, its 2007 comedy/adventure CGI toon Tak and the Power of Juju is based on an established THQ/Avalanche Software video game, and slacker-cum-aspirational show Mr. Meaty started out as a series of animated shorts on the TurboNick broadband platform.
Convergence is also happening on the sales side of the net. Jim Perry, senior VP of Nick ad sales, restructured his sales and marketing teams earlier this year to cut across TV, on-line and magazine divisions. He says advertiser interest in emerging platforms is growing at an amazing clip. TV remains at the core of Nick’s market platform, but Perry says a need to get messages onto VOD and broadband is stronger than it was a year ago.
To ramp up on-line traffic and increase ad views, Nick introduced a New Game of the Week feature on www.nick.com that sports a weekly refresh of original games based on the net’s programming. It started in Q1 2006 and logged 18 million game plays last March alone. Perry is still hammering out the details on the advertising opportunities within the gaming environment, but suggests the messages will likely not appear in the games but rather as banners and short bookend ads.
Beyond multiplatform goals, Perry is boosting Nick’s parenting initiative. Whereas last year’s motivation was to reach advertisers based on kids’ sway in parental decisions on big-ticket purchases, Perry says the draw right now is moms watching TV alongside their tots. Car company Kia signed up as one of the sponsors for last month’s Kids Choice Awards, and travel continues to rank high on Perry’s radar with Best Western and Holiday Inn already teaming up with the cablenet in March. Another growing category is packaged goods manufacturers, with the likes of SC Johnson currently looking to tap further into the mom market.
Disney’s sticks with its
broadcast block for multiplex premieres
The cheese stands alone as the Mouse House is the only cablenet now left with a Saturday block on terrestrial television. Its cable competitors’ disappearing act hasn’t changed Disney’s broadcast strategy that strives to showcase popular Disney Channel programming in the free-to-air market. Instead, it’s created an environment for the brand to reach 110-million U.S. homes. ‘For advertisers, it gives them the opportunity to buy spots on shows they typically can’t buy for,’ senior VP of programming, Scott Garner, says.
Two new series from Disney’s commercial-free cablenet will make the leap to ABC’s Saturday morning block this autumn. Live-action shows Hanna Montana, starring Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter, and wish-fulfillment series The Replacements will bow alongside established Disney properties That’s So Raven, Power Rangers, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and The Emperor’s New School.
Reaching kids who have broadband access is also a priority for Disney. Its website now features streamable half-hour episodes to play into the brand’s strategy to reach as many viewers as possible in both linear and non-linear outlets. While Disney Channel is commercial-free, advertisers can place 15- or 30-second spots on the broadband channel. Static ads will also appear as the program streams, and Tricia Wilber, senior VP of ad sales and promotions is hard at work hammering out more on-line opps in games and microsites for her clients.
Wilber says entertainment companies, particularly theatrical players, are increasing their spend. To answer the call, she’s created two-minute commercial pods on ToonDisney and ABC Kids to show movie previews. The Big Movie Show (Toon Disney) and The Half-Time Show (ABC), debuted with The Weinstein Company’s Hoodwinked movie in Q4 2005. Wilber says she’s casting her net wide to snag DVD, theatrical and video game releases for the pods moving forward.
Disney’s co-viewing story is also making waves with more untraditional kids advertisers. Wilber says Toon Disney delivers the greatest kids two to 11 with adults 18 to 49 co-viewing shares across the kids TV landscape with more than 29% for both day and primetime. She is seeing an increase in automobile interest, but major retailers and packaged goods are also slotting in time with the Mouse nets.
Programming shifts, but ad categories hold steady at Cartoon Network
According to MAGNA’s Q4 analysis of Nielsen Media Research data, Cartoon Network’s ratings dipped to 23.4 from 26.9 last year, and the 24/7 toon net slipped into third place behind Disney, which garnered a 26.5 rating. So, it’s not surprising the channel is looking to shake things up a bit for the upcoming season, while striving to stay true to its original remit of creating character-defined brands.
There are a number of newcomers stepping up to the plate this fall. Most notably, Class of 3000, debuting in November. The 2-D series, developed with Andre Benjamin of hip-hop group OutKast fame, is laden with pop culture references and revolves around a celebrity who leaves the comforts of the glamorous life to teach at a performing arts school.
There’s also the possibility the cablenet will add live-action series to its mix of 2-D and CGI offerings in the coming seasons. Although exec VP and GM of Cartoon Network Worldwide Jim Samples says the genre won’t take up more than 10% of its schedule, it’s a sign CN is looking for new ways to reach more eyeballs.
The net’s revamping its approach to preschool as well. Its two-hour Tickle U block launched last year, featuring gut-busting comedy for the youngest set, but has since been shelved. Samples says the block was not the best way to showcase new preschool shows.
Not that CN has stopped acquiring preschool. Classics Scooby-Doo and Tom and Jerry will bookend new pickups such as Ellen’s Acres from New York’s Animation Collective in an expanded three-and-a-half hour block, airing between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
While scheduling has undergone a shake up, executive VP of ad sales Kim McQuilken says nothing much has changed on the sales front. The key categories remain constant with packaged goods, restaurants, toys and home entertainment sitting at the top of the heap. ‘The kids business is a pretty finite market, and I’m certain it hasn’t grown by more than 5% at any given time in the last five years,’ he says.
Discovery Kids departs the NBC block and refocuses on its cablenet
Discovery Kids is amicably stepping away from its Saturday morning terrestrial block on NBC this fall to concentrate full-time on its 24-hour network. And although the broadcast environment served it well, the net must now rethink its premiering strategy. ‘We always launched on NBC, but no one in their right mind premieres a new kids show on Saturday morning anymore because it’s not core kid viewing time,’ senior VP and GM Marjorie Kaplan says.
The doors are now open to launch new series Grossology (Nelvana), Growing Up Creepy (Mike Young/Taffy) and Dinosapien (Discovery Kids/BBC Worldwide) at any time during the week, and Kaplan will be experimenting with the schedule in the coming months to see what sticks. She’ll also employ a multi-tiered marketing strategy inspired by the net’s popular in-house live actioner, Endurance, to capture the most eyeballs. Starting in July, viewers will get a sneak peek at the upcoming slate with Creepy clips leading off. The series will then debut with a double, back-to-back run – a stunt Discovery Kids used for Endurance’s finale in March.
Although there are no hard numbers to prove the stunt bumped up viewership (Nielsen starts rating Discovery Kids in Q4 2006), on-line traffic more than quadrupled after it aired. Given that encouraging stat, a website refresh planned for the summer that includes an infusion of new interactive and series-inspired quizzes and games should generate some organic buzz for the new programs.
In the continuing effort to be wherever kids are, initiating cross-platform promotional partnerships will be a major driver for VP of ad sales, Ken Ripley. Rather than talking solely about straightforward media buys, his sales pitch is all about the multi-level reach. ‘It’s about the Discovery brand,’ he says, adding there’s room for exposure within net’s retail stores, its presence in schools and, of course, on VOD. The non-linear channel is currently sold around monthly sponsorships, whereby the advertiser has opening spots and banners exclusively. Although dynamic ad insertion can now be achieved on most VOD platforms, Ripley says the 30-day sponsorship model is currently more efficient for the advertiser and for Discovery Kids.
All preschool tells a co-viewing story on PBS Sprout
Newly established PBS Sprout is gearing up for its first Upfront presentation. The preschool destination launched its VOD channel over a year ago while the linear network bowed this past September. Although there’s no hard ratings data available, Sandy Wax, president and GM at Sprout, assures the channel is gaining traction. Last February there were almost eight-million orders for its on-demand service, and the diginet receives more than 2,000 cards a month from viewers asking to be featured on its daily birthday shout-outs.
Rather than focus the Upfront on new programming, Wax is sketching out a plan to make more advertisers and media buyers aware of the new channel’s existence. Stunt programming and media events such as a photo op with Big Bird in Brooklyn’s Botanical Garden last March should help get the word out and reach beyond Sprout’s already-strong 18-million home output.
Of course, advertising around preschool programming is still a prickly subject, so the business model at Sprout focuses on airing spots directed only at the gatekeepers. ‘We don’t take flashy, kid-directed toy advertising,’ Wax says. Travel and automotive categories are heating up, but she’s also seeing an increase on the entertainment side.
4Kids steps up its broadband strategy
Dan Barnathan says his clients are looking for integrated, cross-media packages more than ever before. Although TV is still the best method to reach kids, his sales team is approaching kid-targeted advertisers with comprehensive packages that include video streaming on-line.
While emphasizing co-viewing isn’t top of mind, Barnathan admits a lot of advertisers have been calling up recently to discuss its possibilities. He’s fielding an increased interest from the technology sector, including cell phone companies manufacturing product for a younger demo.
Barnathan will be selling around three new additions to the block in the upcoming season. First off, Viva Pinata, the 4Kids co-venture with Microsoft, will bow in the fall. There’s also Chaotic, a boy-skewing show hatched from a Denmark-based trading card/internet game that follows in the footsteps of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! Anime classic Pretty Cure will join the girl-skewing properties in the Saturday-morning block.
Kids WB! looks to evergreen in an
unsettled broadcast market
When WB Network and UPN announced plans to merge into a new channel named CW, questions were raised about how it would affect the Kids WB! block. Betsy McGowen, senior VP and GM, says that in light of all the changes facing the terrestrial landscape, CW decided to keep Kids WB! name, and build on what has worked for the block in the past.
Although attracting more girl viewers with comedy-laced programming has been a focus in the past few years, the five-hour Saturday morning block is reverting to its original remit of delivering action-comedies to boys six to 11. And McGowen is storming out of the gate with programs based on evergreen properties such as Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! and Legion of Superheroes, which she thinks will ramp up the ratings as soon as Kids WB! starts to air on CW affiliates in September. But it’s not just tried and true programming for the schedule, as newcomer Monster Allergy (Rainbow) will be paired with a new Tom and Jerry Tales series.
After merging its ad sales team with sisternet Cartoon Network two years ago, CW is taking back the commercial time in Q3 this year. Leading the charge is Rob Tuck, who went on a two-week tour across the States in April to suss out advertiser interest. Although it’s early days, he believes the focused, boy-targeted sked is a key selling point. ‘Other networks try to be everything to everyone,’ he says. Outside of TV, ad sales around the revamped website will concentrate mainly on gaming. ‘Kids stay on our games for 11-minutes, which is good retention,’ he says.
DIC’s CBS block looks to reach girl viewers
Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party, DIC’s new broadcast block on CBS, will be looking to create an environment made for girls ages six through 12. The three-hour block takes over from Nickelodeon’s free-to-air on September 16 with toons such as Horseland, Trollz and new series Kooky Kitchen from DIC’s catalogue. But it’s not only animated series, as senior VP of creative affairs Kaaren Lee Brown is mixing up the sked with a live-action music program Dance Dance Dance and a craft show from Brookwell-McNamara, Piece of Cake.
Karl Kuechenmeister, senior VP of advertising sales and marketing, says the team knew companies such as Mattel, MGA and Hasbro would tap into this girl-skewed block, but he’s surprised by the keen interest from video game companies looking to get more girl-gamers into the fold. And DIC will also play the role of advertiser, taking out various spots to get the word out about the block.