All’s quiet on the kids upfront

The annual kids advertising upfront song-and-dance contained a bit more soft-shoe work and fewer show-stopping numbers this year. While on track to grab more than US$1 billion in ad spend, the upfront presentations were, by all accounts, shorter and a little more subdued than in recent years, taking place about a month behind their regular schedule. The prolonged writer's strike that sidelined much of the 2008 season for the major adult-skewing nets may have pushed back the annual pitches to advertisers, but it looks like the growing importance of the scatter market is responsible for the more modest level of activity.
May 1, 2008

The annual kids advertising upfront song-and-dance contained a bit more soft-shoe work and fewer show-stopping numbers this year. While on track to grab more than US$1 billion in ad spend, the upfront presentations were, by all accounts, shorter and a little more subdued than in recent years, taking place about a month behind their regular schedule. The prolonged writer’s strike that sidelined much of the 2008 season for the major adult-skewing nets may have pushed back the annual pitches to advertisers, but it looks like the growing importance of the scatter market is responsible for the more modest level of activity.

As veteran media buyer Shelly Hirsch, a senior partner at New York-based Beacon Media, puts it: ‘I haven’t seen a Christmas in a number of years where, if you came in during October wanting to spend more money, the broadcaster couldn’t take it.’ With 37 years in the industry, Hirsch has helped introduce the likes of Cabbage Patch Kids, Colleco Vision and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to North American kids via Saturday morning network cartoons during his tenure at Summit Media, 4Kids Entertainment’s former media buying arm. But even he recognizes that the purpose of the upfront has become antiquated. Kids marketers no longer need to scrap it out for a limited number of Saturday morning terrestrial spots during key shopping periods like Christmas and Easter. Ever-proliferating linear and digital channels guarantee that available ad space in the US kids TV landscape far exceeds the demand. These days, in fact, Hirsch often waits until his clients’ products hit retail receiving docks in late summer before he makes ad buys on their behalf.

And just as the ad-buying season has evolved, so too have the revenue streams that sustain the industry. Ad buys from non-endemic categories, digital cross-platform deals and a push for creative sponsorship opps are continuing to grow, while traditional ad buys are flattening out. Ed Gentner, SVP and group client director at MediaVest in New York, says his team looks at broadband and video buys more closely every year. ‘Kids don’t distinguish content between distribution points, and we need to look at it through their eyes,’ he says.

In terms of traditional kids ad categories, toyco spending is expected to be flat at best. Increased costs associated with new safety measures and the rising price of oil are taking their toll on the industry, and Hirsch says the high cost of toys at wholesale will limit manufacturers to advertising only their star products. Gentner agrees. He says that although it’s early to tell what the effect will be on this year’s upfront, he expects toycos will be exercising caution when it comes to determining ad spend and placement.

As for packaged food spending, both media planners say the reformulated foods and the industry’s renewed pledge to only advertise healthy eats will keep the ad buying in that category buoyant. But Hirsch warns that spending from food companies won’t approach the level achieved prior to the onset of the childhood obesity issue in the US.

Nickelodeon delving further into digital

Basking in the afterglow of the Kids’ Choice Awards in March that not only garnered a record 7.4 million total viewers but also the most single-day traffic yet on (1.7 million unique visitors), EVP of 360 Brand Sales for Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group Jim Perry says the kidnet is looking to grow its digital business even more over the next year. And results from the March show bode well for taking this tack. This year, Nick jumped on ad support to monetize the VOD element of the annual celebrity awards show. The TurboNick telecast of the KCAs generated 289,000 streams and though it’s still too early to talk details, Perry says next year’s KCAs will add new screens to increase viewer engagement.

In terms of overall web traffic, from January to March 2008, the company’s group of channel and game sites averaged more than 130 million visits and 2.2 billion page views. To keep bringing kids back, Nick will add 1,600 new games to its existing library of 5,000, as well as new tools and several gaming sites tailored to key demos. The net also has plans to create virtual worlds for SpongeBob and original IPs including Monkey World (working title) and World of Neopia (working title), which are expected to launch next year.

In the meantime, continuing eps of 2007 debut iCarly, the show-within-a-show that gets kids to submit their own content online, is a key part of the net’s plans to drive digital momentum. Since August, has hosted more than 65 million page views and received more than 100,000 video and photo uploads from kid fans.

As for new programming, Nick’s 2008/2009 slate includes: made-for-TV one-off Gym Teacher: The Movie; One 4 All, a live-action comedy series about an unlikely boy band; Amy Poehler’s new toon about a high-strung Honeybee troop member aptly called The Mighty B!; and Dance on Sunset, a variety dance show that teaches kids how to bust the latest moves. Additionally, the network has a combined 86 new episodes of animated staples SpongeBob SquarePants, The Fairly OddParents, Back at the Barnyard and The Backyardigans in the hopper.

Perry says he’ll be continuing to court non-endemic advertisers based on a two-pronged approach. First, he’s touting co-viewing habits among Nick’s audience that are bringing in more advertisers like financial service companies that traditionally buy into adult TV dayparts. Secondly, research showing that kids exert a strong influence on their parents’ purchasing decisions of big-ticket items has created fertile ground for landing clients in big-ticket categories such as automotive, travel and consumer electronics. Perry says The Big Green Help initiative, in particular, will be a perfect, um… vehicle for automotive companies, especially if eco-friendly hybrid models break into the SUV and minivan market.

Disney scouts sponsored interstitial opps

As the home of smash music-driven hits High School Musical and Hannah Montana, Disney may have taken the song-and-dance approach to the upfront the most literally of the bunch; it’s all music, all the time for 2008/2009. The House of Mouse used its April 9 presentation as an opportunity to trot out charismatic triple-threat and rising star Demi Lovato to wow ad execs in attendance. Devato, who was introduced in Disney’s sitcom short As the Bell Rings, has been picked to star in the net’s upcoming original movies Camp Rock and Princess Protection Program. Michelle Scarola, SVP of TV sales for Disney Media’s advertising sales and marketing group, says Devato has the power and the talent to follow in the footsteps of franchise celebs Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus. Disney’s new breakout boy band The Jonas Brothers has a starring role in Camp Rock and in TV series J.O.N.A.S., which is slated to debut later this year.

The network is also prepping made-for-TV movies Dadnapped and Hatching Pete, which borrow actors from familiar Disney brands Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Scarola says Disney’s original movies have become an important part of setting itself apart from the competition, as well as being a great platform for promoting other programming and ultimately creating new franchises across its TV, broadband, radio, print, concert tours and consumer products divisions.

On the new series front, Scarola was tight-lipped, but says to expect more announcements later this summer. In the meantime, the net will roll out new seasons of live-actioner Wizards of Waverly Place and toon comedy Phineas and Ferb.

Though the network doesn’t carry traditional television commercial spots, Scarola says she’s looking to grow 15-second sponsored interstitials and value-added partnerships around shows that can be supported by commercial messaging on broadband, radio and print. She says the value-added component could be anything from sponsoring a special movie or theme week, to offering a sweepstakes that will help drive consumers to retail.

Disney says that more than 30% of its audience is comprised of adult viewers, and Scarola aims to take advantage of this fact by going deeper into the automotive, wireless and computer hardware categories.

Cartoon Network regroups

After experiencing a 6% slide in total-day viewers and falling to fifth place in ad-supported cable nets, according to Nielsen Media Research Data, Cartoon Network is aiming to turn the tide by setting up go-to nights for action-adventure and comedy programming.

Fridays will be set aside for action-adventure, with George Lucas’s new CGI animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars taking center stage. ‘Star Wars was a game-changer for us,’ says Cartoon’s EVP of ad sales, marketing and enterprises, Beth Goss. ‘George Lucas choosing Cartoon Network speaks volumes to the strength and power that we bring to it from a marketing perspective,’ she adds. Rounding out the Friday fantasy theme will be Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Ben 10: Alien Force and The Secret Saturdays, which bow this fall with 26 eps.

Thursdays, meanwhile, are all about comedy. CN’s new hit Chowder serves as the anchor, with Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Camp Lazlo and George of the Jungle rounding out the lineup. Additionally, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, about a boy who’s raised in a whale and embarks on a series of high-seas adventures, will debut this summer in the daypart.

To make sure the laughs keep on coming, the network has started up a comedy search initiative called Cartoonstitute. The program will suss out 150 comedic animated shorts from up-and-coming writers and animators over a period of 20 months. Goss says Cartoonstitute will act like the network’s farm league from which it can nurture talent and shepherd successful projects into full-fledged series.

Advertising efforts, for the most part, will still be focused on landing traditional kid-targeted deals, but Goss isn’t turning away the non-endemic advertisers lured by the wider demographic appeal of the new Star Wars series. The series’ late summer launch on CN will undoubtably benefit from the theatrical release on August 15. And it will also roll out this fall on Turner’s adult channel, TNT.

CN is also keeping on top of its digital offerings by launching its first MMOG this summer. Fusion Fall, which stars fave characters culled from the CN universe, including Ben Tennyson and Billy and Mandy, will offer kids interactive game play and build on the net’s already impressive website stats. In 2007, kid users spent an average of 77 minutes per month on the site and took part in close to two billion game sessions. However, Goss now considers the net’s online reach as just part of the overall package for ad buyers. ‘We don’t even refer to cross-platform sales anymore,’ she says. ‘We just assume that our advertisers are looking to reach our consumers in the multi-platform way they engage with our product.’

qubo adds new properties, touts co-viewing

Heading into its second upfront season, qubo is debuting two new series on its terrestrial platforms, which include a Saturday morning block on NBC, Friday afternoons on Ion, and a Spanish-language feed on Saturdays and Sundays on Telemundo. Bowing in October, CCI Entertainment’s Turbo Dogs is based on the Racer Dog book series from partner company Scholastic’s library. The other new entry, Sammy’s Story Shop, is a 26 x 23-minute 2-D animated series for kids two to six in which a lovable storytelling chef introduces animated adaptations of classic kids books.

In the meantime, qubo’s 24/7 digital channel has picked up Maisy and Miss BG. qubo has also signed on as the exclusive US outlet for Zimmer Twins, an online property that first made a splash on Canuck kidcaster Teletoon. Housed on, the series gives kids an online tool kit to create their own Zimmer Twin movies, complete with kid-authored word bubbles. qubo will then pick monthly winners, add animation and audio effects, and then air the final shorts. SVP of advertising sales and sponsorship Kerry Hughes says the online application has already risen to become the second-most popular destination on after games, and was a highlight of the channel’s upfront push. Since the Zimmer Twins launch in January, kids have created roughly 150,000 movies, some 800 of which have been posted online.

qubo is continuing to court non-endemic media buyers by touting its strength in the adult marketplace through co-viewing. Hughes says she’s especially focused on landing accounts with financial institutions to promote child-related investment opportunities, as well as travel companies that have family-friendly trip packages. The channel is also poised to develop long-term deals with corporate sponsors interested in partnering to produce pro-social sponsored messages, such as the PSA it created for NBC, the ad council and the US Olympic committee. In the spot that launched in mid-April, qubo characters interact with Olympic hopefuls to talk about eating healthy foods. Hughes says qubo’s partnerships with Scholastic and Corus also enable it to create reach into other mediums, as exemplified by a deal with an as-yet-undisclosed company that bought advertising within a DVD package.

Sprout grows user-generated content

Expanding on its co-viewing mandate, the preschool net is launching a three-hour afternoon block called The Sprout Sharing Show from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. President and GM of PBS Kids Sprout Sandy Wax says the segment will be like YouTube for the under-five set. The show, hosted by a trio of hand puppets working in a homemade-looking cardboard theater, will prompt kids to send in videos of themselves showing off talents and ‘I can do it’ moments. Kids will also get the chance to see their artwork transformed into animated shorts.

The puppet hosts and viewer-created clips will air as part of a lineup of Sprout fare that includes Fifi and the Flowertots, Jay Jay the Jet Plane, Pingu, Fireman Sam and Dragon Tales. Additionally, the channel has acquired Picme from Dublin, Ireland-based Jam Media. Complementing the block’s viewer involvement, Picme takes kids’ headshots and super-imposes them onto the 2-D animated characters in each episode, so Sprout viewers will be invited to send in their pics to fuel the broadcast. Wax says the net will be getting exclusive acquisitions from one or more of the channel’s partners (HIT, Sesame Workshop and PBS) in the coming year, but at press time, he couldn’t reveal any details.

The new block’s creation, says Wax, was spurred by the number of homemade crafts being sent into the morning show, Sunny Side Up. By expanding the kid involvement to include video, Wax says Sprout is upping the co-creation element that the home vids will require, drawing in more parents and caregivers and further supporting Sprout’s parent-directed advertising mandate. The channel’s biggest, longest-running advertisers are Huggies and Pull-Ups, and Wax says she’s continuing to focus on signing automotive, insurance and household products clients, plus a major retail partner.

On the digital side, Sprout’s website recently underwent a major overhaul to add private and public sharing galleries, microsites for original programming and optimized searching functions. Though she’s working on bringing advertisers online, Wax says that the 24-hour digital cable channel and VOD net are the breadwinners. With traditional spots limited to three minutes per hour on the channel, she is keen on adding more integrated sponsorships that bridge TV and online space. A good example of this is a recent deal with Sea World, which is sponsoring Sunny Side Up for a week in June. Programming will be themed around sea animals and the website will carry activities and coloring pages related to the topic.

DIC re-focuses on girl viewers

Continuing to establish the Kewlopolis brand on its Saturday morning CBS block, and making headway with its new companion entertainment website top DIC’s to-do list heading into the 2008 season. Up-and-running since February ’08, debuted with more than 300 streaming videos of 25-plus series culled from the DIC library. The site features on-demand toon channels, as well as games and a chat function. DIC SVP of ad sales Dave Danowski says the TV block’s informational site,, will serve as an entry point for the brand and direct kids to, which is ad-supported and gives advertisers the ability to stream their spots between the on-demand programming. Danowski says he’ll be going after kid-targeted advertisers for the online content.

Building brand loyalty for Saturday’s Kewlopolis block will include bringing back new eps of existing shows such as Cake, Horseland and Dino Squad and refocusing on the channel’s core audience of girls. Danowski says last year’s foray into striking more of a gender balance with boy-targeted programming wasn’t as successful as anticipated. Admitting that it’s tough to be all things to all people in the space of three hours, he says sticking to girl programming will allow the channel to cater to advertisers primarily interested in reaching girls and moms.

Danowski points to the series Cake, which launched in September 2006 and centers on a group of girls who produce a cable access program to showcase their DIY projects and crafts, as a show that has had success drawing in major craft retail stores such as Michael’s and Wal-Mart. To further promote the brand and satisfy those ad buyers, he says DIC is planning to produce crafting interstitials to add to the block this fall.

Discovery Kids opens up sponsorship opps

This fall, Discovery Kids is adding additional seasons and specials from existing series that proved to be ratings winners over the last year. Joining the slate are: Tutenstein: The Movie, based on the adventure series of the same name; Willa’s Wild Life, a new 52 x 11-minute series based on the book An Octopus Followed Me Home by Dan Yaccarino; and brand-new eps of Bindi: The Jungle Girl. Bindi, in particular, is one of the channel’s key properties, and president and GM Sharon O’Sullivan says the show will evolve as Bindi gets older and gains more popularity with American kids and parents.

Though Discovery Kids draws from a portfolio of Discovery Communications’ advertisers, Carole Tonko, SVP of ad sales, says the majority of advertisers on the channel are kid-targeted.

Moving forward, the channel will be continuing to improve and add to its online content, as well as adjusting and refreshing its VOD packaging to lure cross-platform ad buys. And this year, Tonko will also be opening up Discovery Kids’ commercial-free Ready Set Learn! block on TLC to presenting sponsors. The block, which has aired from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on TLC since 1996, will begin running sponsorship announcements at the top of every hour leading into and out of shows.

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