A year after the chilling and disruptive effects of 9/11, children are flocking back to Saturday morning kids networks-particularly to Kids’ WB, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and such emerging players as Fox Box, ABC Family and Nick on CBS.
Almost all the kids TV players can brag about year-to-year growth. But some industry wags suggest it could be the first time in five or more years that there are so many choices and so many appealing series-a situation that could possibly reverse the perception by advertising buyers in recent years of the kids market as oversaturated and creatively stagnant.
“[We] and our competitors have just set the bar higher in terms of the choice and quality of the series, possibly as high as I’ve ever seen it in past seasons,” said Kids’ WB Executive VP Donna Friedman, whose Saturday network lineup outscored Nickelodeon in key demos-boys 2 to 11, boys 6 to 11 and tweens 9 to 14-in recent weeks. “There has been some distance put between now and Sept. 11 , but I do think there has been renewed appetite-not just in kids but also in tweens and teen viewers-for fun, escapist entertainment. Certainly, I think the growth in our [rating] numbers bear that out.”
Undoubtedly, since the Kids’ WB premiered its Saturday morning lineup this month, seven of eight kid series top the rankings-among all TV networks-in the key boys 6 to 11 demographic, which at a 7.9 rating/32 share average this season has registered 58 percent in year-to-year growth (see chart). Furthermore, Kids’ WB outscored all networks (including Nickelodeon) on Sept. 14 to take home top honors in boys 6 to 11 (8.3/32), boys 2 to 11 (6.9/26) and tweens 9 to 14 (5.3/25) en route to setting new launch records for the Frog Jr. network.
The engine that continues to drive Kids’ WB (since the end of last season) has been“Yu-Gi-Oh,” which posted a personal-best 11.4/44 score among boys 6 to 11 (on Sept. 14) in the 11 a.m.-to-11:30 a.m. (ET) slot, even surpassing companion Japanese anime hit “Pokemon” (9.1/32). The springboard strength of “Yu-Gi-Oh’s” first airing at 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. (averaging a 5.1/25 in boys 6 to 11) catapulted lead-outs “What’s New Scooby-Doo?” (7.5/29), “Jackie Chan Adventures” (7.6/27), the new “Ozzy & Drix” (8.7/30), “Mucha Lucha!” (9.0/34) and “X-Men Evolution” (8.0/32) to seven of the top eight rankings in boys 6 to 11 that week.
Overall, Kids’ WB’s 8 a.m.-to-noon (ET) Saturday rotation held a front-running 8.3/32 score in boys 6 to 11 and marking a 41 percent jump from its year-ago week average (5.9/25).
Although the sheer size of Kids’ WB’s across-the-board, double-digit ratings increases has dominated the Saturday landscape in recent weeks, the influx of kids viewers-particularly in the boys demos-also translated to similarly robust increases for Fox Box, Nick on CBS, Cartoon Network and ABC.
Fox Box, featuring the Sept. 14 launch of a largely Japanese anime series lineup from licensing and merchandising giant 4Kids Entertainment, quickly established itself as the third-ranked network in boys 6 to 11 (3.1/12) and tweens 9 to 14 (2.2/10). Most significantly, the rebannered Fox Box-set up by 4Kids as a $25 million-per-year time buy deal with Fox-registered identical 29 percent year-to-year jumps in the boys 6 to 11 and tween demos.
“As first-week network launches go, I’d say we did we a pretty good job planting a flag in the boys, tweens and teen demos,” said 4Kids Chairman Al Kahn. “To say we came in third among in boys [6 to 11] demos behind only Kids’ WB and Nickelodeon in our first turn out of the gates, I don’t think anyone expected us to do that well at the outset. We do feel we are on track with our [ratings] projections, but it’s still way too early to judge whether we’ll be in an overdelivery situation.”
When it came to the delivery of Fox Box’s 8 a.m.-to-noon rotation, the inaugural run grew 183 percent in share among boys 6 to 11 from the first to last half-hour frames. Things particularly took off in the 11 a.m. hour, with the video-game-inspired “Kirby” (4.3/18) and lead-out “Fighting Foodons” (4.1/17) coming in third among all networks in their time slots.
Among the other broadcast network players ABC Kids relaunch Sept. 14 had the Disney-owned network claiming its strongest Saturday premiere performance since 1999 among kids 2 to 11 (2.3/10) and tweens (2.2/10, tied with Fox). Due to an entire pre-emption of it Saturday lineup on Sept. 15, 2001, it was not possible to gauge any kind of percentage comparisons based on year-to-year ratings performances.
Nevertheless, ABC did place four of its series within the top 20 among the broader kids 2 to 11 demo. Buoyed by the strong season premieres for “Recess 2” (3.2/12), “Lizzie McGuire” (3.1/10) and “Proud Family” (3.2/11), the 9 a.m. series debut of “Fillmore” (2.8/11) became the fourth series to crack the top 20 in the kids 2 to 11 demo that week.
The race with the broadcast networks also tightened with the second-season rollout of the Nick on CBS lineup on Sept. 14 registering 21 percent growth in its core kids 2 to 5 preschool demo (2.9/12) and 33 percent in the broader kids 2 to 11 category (2.0/8). The strongest kids 2 to 11 returns came from the network premieres of “Hey Arnold” (2.8/11) and “Wild Thornberry’s” (2.6/9).
While the Nick on CBS lineup continued to rack up across-the-board rating growth for the second season, along with the other broadcast networks, it could come at the cost of the dominant kids cable network player, Nickelodeon. Although Nickelodeon continues to hold top ratings positions in most Saturday demos this season (except for trailing Kids’ WB in boys 6 to 11 and tweens), the Viacom-owned network is down by single-digit percentages in kids 2 to 11 (5.2/22) and kids 6 to 11 (5.6/24) year to year-potentially the consequence of renewed competition from the other broadcast and cable network competitors.
Cyma Zaraghami, executive VP and general manager of Nickelodeon, conceded that there could be some cannibalization coming from its own successful planting of Nick on CBS. But as Nick on CBS is sold to advertisers as a combined, value-added package with the cable network commercial inventory, Ms. Zaraghami remains firm about Nickelodeon holding its dominant market position.
“When you look at the sum of the parts, with brand-recognizable shows such as `Dora’ and `Blues Clues’ getting exposures on both networks, we have only broadened our demographic reach on both platforms,” Ms. Zaraghami said. “In that we are now broadening Nick on CBS from being a kids 2 to 5 preschool lineup to a broader appeal kids 2 to 11 network, we’re quite thrilled with those results.”
Presently, multiple airings of “SpongeBob” continue to hold the top two rankings in TV among kids 2 to 11 when it comes to its 9:30 a.m. (6.6/23) and 9 a.m. airings (6.2/23). The addition of such other prime-time mainstays as “Fairly Odd Parents” (5.9/21) and “Jimmy Neutron” (5.7/21) in the 10 a.m.-to-11 a.m. Saturday time slots also gave Nick four of the five top-rated kids 2 to 11 series on Sept. 14.
Nick researchers and Ms. Zaraghami suggested that Nick’s overall kids 2 to 11 (5.2/11) and kids 6 to 11 demos (5.7/23) for Sept. 14 should not be compared with the year-ago Saturday (Sept. 15, 2001), but instead should be weighed against the third week of last season (which began Sept. 22, 2001). They cited pre-emptions that created wholesale elimination of kids lineup in favor of post-9/11 news coverage (actually only on ABC) and decreased national carriage on other networks due to local affiliate news coverage. Using that logic, Nick researchers claim the network actually registered just over 20 percent growth (instead of a minor decline) in the kids 2 to 11 and 6 to 11 demos.
“It is noteworthy that Saturday after the Sept. 11 [terrorist] attacks had been somewhat negatively affected, but picked up in subsequent weeks because parents were looking for safe havens for children to watch TV,” Ms. Zaraghami said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how things shake out in the [year-to-
year] comparisons in the coming weeks, because this time last year was such a rollercoaster ride when it came to viewing trends. Hopefully, when things shake out in the coming weeks, we’ll all look stronger when comparing historical trends.”