Selling Screen to Screen

With the dog-and-pony-show portion of the annual US kids advertising upfront out of the way, network sales execs are getting down to business as they fight for their share of the some US$800 million spent by advertisers on three key periods: Easter, back-to-school and Christmas. On the programming side, kidnets are continuing to push content into the digital realm, while their sales counterparts are taking this tack to reach untapped streams of ad revenue. And this year, a few new challenges are threatening to shake up the traditional advertiser/broadcaster relationship. To begin with, an industry-wide shift to embrace a new ratings currency is in the works.
May 1, 2007

With the dog-and-pony-show portion of the annual US kids advertising upfront out of the way, network sales execs are getting down to business as they fight for their share of the some US$800 million spent by advertisers on three key periods: Easter, back-to-school and Christmas. On the programming side, kidnets are continuing to push content into the digital realm, while their sales counterparts are taking this tack to reach untapped streams of ad revenue. And this year, a few new challenges are threatening to shake up the traditional advertiser/broadcaster relationship. To begin with, an industry-wide shift to embrace a new ratings currency is in the works.

Nielsen’s pending release of commercial-ratings data at the end of May and its perceived effect on sales dynamics is currently the talk of the town. ‘Commercial ratings are going to get done in some way, shape or form,’ says Jason Maltby, president and co-executive director of national broadcast at New York-based media agency Mindshare. However, he notes, the impact on kidnet sales should be fairly minimal.

While adult programmers scramble to find new ways to increase viewer engagement during commercial breaks, the scene is more encouraging for players in the kid space. ‘Kids don’t see commercials as interrupting their programming,’ says Maltby. Rather, he says, they happily view the 30-second spots as a source of information about new toys and products.

Also keeping ad sales execs on their toes this past year was the eBay Media Marketplace, a proposed online ad-auction space that has been effectively thwarted for now. Key trade org the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau scrapped the system after members tested the process and found it wanting. Several cablers reported that it lacked the human element necessary to negotiate integrated and interactive buys.

In Maltby’s opinion, cheap deals aren’t a valid reason to cause an industry-wide shift to online ad sales. ‘If they develop a truly soup-to-nuts model that makes it transparent and improves the process, then we’ll have something applicable,’ he says. In the meantime, he believes commoditizing media will only work for classic bottom-feeders with short-term goals who can risk losing bids for air time, as opposed to players with complex, long-term brand launches in mind that don’t hinge on securing the cheapest spot possible.

On the spending front, Maltby predicts sales to key kids advertisers in toys and packaged foods will remain flat. The fact that most networks are more eager to talk about non-endemic ad sales and are actively courting new advertisers in electronics and digital bears this forecast out somewhat.

And food advertisers, in particular, continue to tread lightly in the kids space amidst an unprecedented level of public scrutiny. Maltby says he doesn’t see packaged goods firms ramping up spending this year. And even though there are healthier products on the market, there’s still too much controversy swirling around the category to make these manufacturers want to push the ad envelope.

Jim Perry, EVP of 360 Degree Brand Sales for the kids and family group at Nickelodeon, however, believes the worst is behind the cablenet when it comes to food advertising. ‘Companies like Kraft that pulled out two years ago have taken some time to reformulate products that were deemed unhealthy, and are now back to marketing them,’ he says.

As for toys, despite 2006 figures from Nielsen’s Monitor Plus showing that toy and game ad spend across all media categories dropped by 11% to US$1.6 billion, broadcasters remain optimistic. Many toycos have managed to improve their results in the last couple of quarters, notes DIC’s VP of advertising sales and marketing, David Danowski. He foresees toycos ‘being more conservative with their spending initially, and then coming in later and putting more money towards very targeted campaigns.’

Finally, it looks like the upfront itself may be diminishing in importance as ad spend is increasingly being spread throughout the year and in scatter markets. For their part, network ad execs are adapting to the new year-round sales environment. ‘Kids was probably one of the first sectors to take this route because children watch a lot of programming in the summer when adults watch less TV,’ says Sandy Wax, president and GM of PBS Kids Sprout. Nick’s Perry says significant spending still occurs during the upfront, but acknowledges that a year-round buying market is evolving because of the burgeoning digital and online extensions that take more time to plan and execute.

Nick plans an online hit, courts digital ad buys

Riding on its biggest-ever investment from parentco Viacom, the number-one kids cablenet is looking to build a strong ad base in digital media by ramping up its multimedia programming with new interactive shows that incorporate kid-generated content.

A standout in connecting the linear and digital environments, iCarly is a new live-action show-within-a-show featuring host Carly, who gives kids specific assignments to create and post their own original content online. The audience creations then have a chance at being scripted into a future episode or becoming part of Carly’s webcast.

The show joins Nick’s other digi-themed offerings, including ME:TV, a live afternoon block featuring original kid-generated content, as well as virtual world Nicktropolis and broadband video platform TurboNick 2.0. February 2007 stats show Nicktropolis attracted a million unique kid visitors, and TurboNick 2.0 had more than 77 million streams, up 511% from February 2006.

Perry expects the shows and online environments to attract new ad partners in the computer, electronics and wireless categories. He estimates the ad spend supporting digital initiatives will be upwards of 10% of the net’s total take this year. Already, Nick has signed on tween-targeted wireless phone company Kajeet to feature Nick content, ringtones and wallpapers on its phones, in return for advertising on the network.

Unique to Nickelodeon’s annual model is the 20-year-old Kids’ Choice Awards, which has turned into a major ad spending event in its own right. The show had its biggest audience ever this past March 31, doubling its previous sponsor list and, significantly, inking major deals with non-endemic sponsors Wal-Mart and KIA Motors. Perry says the awards show was the backbone of the KIA deal, in particular, as the automobile company was eager to target parents watching the show with their kids. He says kid influence over family life continues to grow and attract ad spending from travel, automotive, retail and food categories.

Disney debuts a new slate and targets parents

Disney Channel is coming off a banner year and giving rival Nick a run for its money. According to Nielsen Q4 ’06 figures, the net gained 4.7 ratings points overall last year and now has 31.2 share of kids two to 11 – just a few points behind Nick’s 34.0 share. So the plan on the ad side revolves around broadening its multi-platform approach. And a new centralized sales force under Tricia Wilber, EVP of the media and advertising group, is now poised to offer advertisers streamlined campaigns across television, radio, online and print.

Wilber says the strong input kids continue to have on household purchases has sweetened the pot for potential deals with automotive, retail and wireless advertisers banking on Disney’s family viewing patterns. To strengthen that bond with parents, the company recently unveiled its new website in a bid to expand its reach with moms, in particular.

The channel also continues to pursue greater online engagement with kids. Since relaunching in January, now streams an average of 100 million videos per week. Look for The Disney Channel Games competition to become a pillar for multi-platform ad opps. It’s scheduled to roll out this summer as two half-hour TV specials, a weekly short-form program and an interactive online event with extensions on Radio Disney.

In the meantime, sequels of highly rated original TV movies are providing a lot of the programming in the coming year, including High School Musical II, Cheetah Girls 3, Twitches Too and Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board, the successor to Johnny Tsunami.

Also new to Disney’s Saturday morning block on ABC are live-action laughers Cory in the House (which is a spin-off from That’s So Raven) and Wizards, which will also bow on Disney Channel. Meanwhile, new animated series that will target a core kids audience on Disney Channel include comedies Phineaus and Ferb, Dadnapped and Franklin B.C.

Cartoon Network works on wireless

Cartoon is continuing its push into the digital space on the heels of last year’s broadband additions Toonami Jetstream and Cartoon Network Video, which together now pump out 20 million video streams per month. John O’Hara, SVP of advertising sales, says those digital entities and cable VOD service Cartoon Network On Demand are facilitating cross-platform buys for advertisers looking to embrace digital.

O’Hara is aiming to expand his non-traditional ad buys and has automotive, retail and insurance advertisers in sight. He adds that the net has made strides in the scatter market over the last three quarters. Also, it’s no secret that boys make up CN’s strongest viewership component, and the net will work with partners to capitalize on that strength across all platforms.

New this year is Call Toons, an interactive application where users can jazz up their mobile phones with CN characters and ringtones. Though the initiative isn’t set up for ad sales at this point, O’Hara says the product is going to help push the brand and its characters further into the wireless space.

As for stoking advertiser and viewer interest in the traditional broadcast platform, CN is trying out five new series this year, including Santo, starring a 2-D animated version of real-life wrestling hero Santo El Enmascarado de Plata; Chowder, a comedy about a zany aspiring chef; The Secret Saturdays, which chronicles a family of super scientists; and a show about a boy living inside a whale called The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. Also on deck is a TV spin-off of the net’s original live-action/toon movie Re-Animated.

Finally, CN has 662 new episodes of existing shows, 24 new premiere specials and movies, several special-event promotions, online talent search Props and the premiere of a Ben 10 live-action movie in the hopper.

Discovery Kids lures parents with cross-platform series Already a popular choice among girls and aspiring to endear itself even more to parents, Discovery Kids has set the stage for more cross-platform ad buys by centralizing the direction of Discovery’s integrated media group, which also includes adult channel Animal Planet. In addition to her role as president and GM of Animal Planet Media and Discovery Kids Media, in which she oversees Discovery Kids and, Marjorie Kaplan has also taken the helm at Animal Plant Media Enterprises.

In June, Discovery Kids is debuting Bindi: The Jungle Girl, a weekly wildlife series starring the late Steve Irwin’s precocious eight-year-old daughter. The show will direct kids online to Bindi’s Blog, where Bindi herself will offer more content and answer questions. The cablenet also intends to make a direct connection with adults when Animal Planet airs My Daddy the Croc Hunter (a behind-the-scenes look at Bindi’s life with her famous dad) the night before her show bows on Discovery Kids.

Also straddling the kids and adult platforms is The Future is Wild, a new show for Discovery Kids based on the adult series that imagines which species of animals will populate the Earth in the future. Kaplan says it’s wide open for licensing opportunities.

Sprout brands for family bonding

Coming up on its second upfront season, PBS Kids Sprout’s number-one priority is still building advertiser and viewer awareness. The preschool channel is launching a major branding initiative called ‘We Share’ through consumer and trade publications, outdoor displays and on television across 90 PBS affiliates. The campaign is meant to reflect the lives of families and encourage simple moments that can be shared, such as eating dinner, doing crafts or curling up together on the couch to watch TV.

A focus on parent-targeted advertising is still core to the new kidnet’s commercial strategy. And Wax says the channel has expanded its advertising base on that front in the last year, landing buys from entertainment, home video, automotive, travel and insurance companies. In the coming year, consumer electronics and retail are two of the key categories she’s working on building.

The lion’s share of Sprout’s ad business right now centers around its on-demand/VOD component, which generated more than 10 million views on Comcast in 2006, averaging 13 to 14 million views per month. Though Wax remains tight-lipped about new Sprout programming rolling out over the course of the year, she did say there will be a focus on interstitials and shorts to complement the network’s lineup of well-known series such as Sesame Street and Bob the Builder.

On the digital front, Wax says her team is going to ramp up its website’s user-generated content offerings to get parents and kids interacting with Sprout. ‘The child is sitting there with the parent and there’s an opportunity to provide the child a chance to play and give the parents some tips and ideas,’ says Wax. She sees the site as a key link into the home, and plans to use the platform to encourage kids and families to communicate with Sprout’s team.

Kids’ WB! takes its action-adventure stronghold online

Superheroes still rule the roost on Saturday mornings at Kids’ WB!, which boasts six of the top 10 shows watched by kids two to 11 on terrestrial TV.

And Saturday morning cartoons remain a big draw with kids, says Rob Tuck, EVP of sales and planning at Kids’ WB!, adding that despite cable’s dominance, there remains a strong market for terrestrial TV in the US. In fact, approximately 13% of American kids ages six to 11 don’t have access to cable at all.

Besides launching the new Spider-Man animated series, the net is debuting four shows that pack in comedy and action and also incorporate a substantial online component. Magi Nation, bowing this fall, is a multi-platform 2-D animated series based on a trading card game that kids can access online to experience more character adventures.

World of Quest, Eon Kid and Will & Dewitt are also filled with laughs and based on fantastical adventures the net hopes will turn kids on. And as the new shows have strong built-in online components, Kids’ WB! intends to take advantage and ramp up its offering of online games. Each new series will get its own game, says Dana Cluverius, VP of programming and scheduling.

Though Kids’ WB! skews primarily boy, Tuck says classic comedies like Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue and Tom & Jerry, which it took on last year, help it stay competitive with girls.

DIC reaches out to boys amid block revamp

DIC, which focused on its Saturday morning Secret Slumber Party block for girls on CBS last year, is now looking to add some boy-targeted programming and undertake a refresh for fall ’07. Danowski says the net is bringing on DIC production I Was a High School Dinosaur (working title) and American Greetings Properties’ Sushi Pack, a 2-D animated action/comedy about a group of crime-fighting sushi, to lure boy viewers to the channel.

‘We’ve learned going into year two that it’s really important to speak to both boys and girls and not be exclusive,’ says Danowski.

Boy titles aside, Danowski says DIC still has plans to expand on the Secret Slumber Party concept and is continuing its effort with Geffen Records to launch hosts The Slumber Party Girls as a musical group in its own right. New eps of DIC’s Cake and Horseland are in the works, and both properties have products launching in the fall. DIC will also premiere a Strawberry Shortcake TV series with AGP.

Interstitials about healthy eating, fitness and self-esteem have also been rolled into the programming throughout the morning, and The Girls are set to host a magazine-style series tentatively titled Everything KEWL. The show is part of DIC and Geffen’s new KEWL brand, which features a tween-targeted celebrity- and music-driven print magazine and website.

Danowski says his primary sales objective has been securing traditional kids ad buyers, but he is also talking to non-traditional categories and getting more retailers involved.

Qubo gears up with original programs and a Brit classic

Newcomer Qubo, which took over the NBC Saturday morning block vacated by Discovery Kids last fall and which also occupies weekend mornings on Telemundo, recently expanded its digital broadcast day on ION Television to 24 hours.

Heading into its first upfront, the net is launching new series from two of its three content partners and adding new eps to existing shows. Entertainment Rights’ UK classic Postman Pat is scheduled to bow this fall, and Nelvana’s My Friend Rabbit will be the channel’s first exclusive original production. President and GM Rick Rodriguez says Qubo will also be working closely with its third content partner, Scholastic, to bring literacy-based programming to air, as well as collaborating with its Parent and Child magazine.

Rodriguez and Kerry Hughes, SVP of advertising sales and sponsorship, say the focus on family co-viewing and literacy will help bring in advertisers looking to reach moms and adults ages 18 to 39, and to that end, they expect about 40% of ad buys to come from non-traditional kids advertisers, pointing to packaged goods, apparel and retail as having particularly strong potential.

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