US – Dominant preschool players take ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach to fall skeds

More episodes of current hits rule on Nick Jr.
October 1, 2008

More episodes of current hits rule on Nick Jr.

Lay of the land: Nick Jr. airs on Nickelodeon from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and targets the two to five demo with a goal of providing the wee audience with educational content in a playful way. It currently reache more than 96 million US homes and boasts some of the most popular preschool series on TV in the US, including Dora the Explorer and The Wonder Pets!

The goal: Put simply, Brown Johnson, president of animation at Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids & Family Group, wants to keep things humming along. Nick Jr. already has the lion’s share of the preschool audience in the US and is looking to continue its dominance by mining its current stable of iconic characters and adding very little in the way of new programming.

The strategy: Johnson says that the net will continue to stick with its winning formula of peppering entertainment-driven series with a hint of educational flavoring. One new addition this year is long-form movies based on Nick Jr. series that will play in prime time but be preceded by a DVD launch. For example, Dora Saves the Snow Princess is a full-length made-for-TV movie that was released on DVD at the end of September; it will also hit Nick airwaves in a prime-time slot closer to the holiday season. Similarly, The Wonder Pets! Save the Nutcracker lands on mass retailers’ shelves on October 7 and will be broadcast around Christmas.

The standouts: Three words here: Dora the Explorer. The megahit is still going strong and is easily the number-one television series for kids two to five so far in 2008, with more than 21 million viewers watching the series in a one-month period in May 2008, according to Nielsen metrics. Last year’s newcomer Yo Gabba Gabba!, meanwhile, proved to be as big a breakout hit as the net had hoped it would be, delivering an average of 734,000 kids ages two to five for each telecast last May. And The Wonder Pets! ranked third amongst all preschool programs with Hispanic preschoolers, drawing roughly 12.7 million viewers during that same month.

Pulling in numbers like this, it’s not surprising that Johnson is opting not to tweak the schedule in any way for the upcoming season. ‘This year is more about new episodes of the existing hits,’ she says. ‘We don’t want to make room in our schedule for a new series at this point.’

Delivering eyeballs: Nick Jr. is going to stick with its proven marketing strategy of cross-promoting series with Nickelodeon and developing games for that tout special programming events like the aforementioned prime-time specials. Promotions seem to be pretty much taking care of themselves lately, as the presence of Nick Jr. characters continues to proliferate in the marketplace, thanks to ever-growing consumer products programs based on the likes of Dora and co. As Johnson herself says, ‘I have to admit, there is nothing new in terms of promotion for Nick Jr.’

PBS pioneers science-readiness curriculum for the under-five crowd

Lay of the land: PBS Kids is the umbrella brand for kids programming featured on US terrestrial pubcaster PBS, which currently has close to 100% household penetration in the territory. Serving the two- to eight-year-old demo, its emphasis holds firm on education and providing curriculum-based programming above entertainment goals, in contrast to Nick Jr. Last year was a particularly good one for the channel, with Universal Studios/WGBH’s Curious George hitting it out of the park with preschool viewers, and stalwarts Sesame Street and Clifford the Big Red Dog more than holding their own in the space.

The goal: PBS Kids senior director of children’s programming Linda Simensky says she is hoping to continue the success enjoyed over the last year and introduce new series without disrupting the established schedule too much.

The strategy: Basically, it boils down to the old ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ axiom, and the net is slotting in some new series between existing favorites. Working with beloved properties like Sesame Street and Curious George, Simensky doesn’t want to over-think or over-tinker. ‘For us, it’s really business as usual,’ she says.

One thing PBS Kids will be working on is expanding its online offering with a constantly evolving web presence. Expect the PBS Kids Go! site to add a boatload of content and a new video player in the coming months.

Fall hopefuls: Simensky highlights Henson’s Sid the Science Kid, which provides a half-hour mix of live-action and animation with a musical component, as a great new addition to her edutainment preschool sked. The net has ordered 40 eps of the science-readiness show that captured Simensky’s attention as ‘the only series that looks to teach preschoolers something about science.’ Plus, she was drawn to its layered humor. ‘It’s very funny, sort of a Seinfeld-like observational humor for kids if you can believe it,’ she says. The series will debut as part of the hosted two-hour weekday preschool block, sandwiched between Curious George and 2007 debutant Super Why! in most markets.

Another series being worked into the tight schedule is Martha Speaks, a literacy-based toon produced with Canada’s Studio B Productions for kids ages four and up. It features a talking dog, and as Simensky notes, ‘once you say ‘talking dog,’ you’ve got your show.’ The series will also take advantage of the little monkey with big ratings, debuting in a pre-Curious George slot at 7:30 a.m.

Delivering eyeballs: The net will be spending more marketing dollars on attracting mothers in the next 12 months. Besides traditional marketing spend, the net is looking at mommy blogs and radio airtime as vehicles to grow its reach with the gatekeepers. Additionally, libraries across the US will put Sid the Science Kid posters on display and hand out Sid stickers, while supermarkets will soon be sporting POS signage at checkout lanes and selling Sid-branded watermelons in their produce aisles, thanks to a recent licensing deal with a US fruit grower.

PBS will also continue its partnership with the Kidtoon Films in-theater program, where the net’s content will be featured monthly across the US.

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at


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