A Seller’s Market

Apr 14, 2003  •  Post A Comment

“Things are going gangbusters” is a phrase that has been repeated by more than one cable or broadcast network executive regarding the kids television upfront. Media buyers, on the other hand, emerged from back-to-back meetings last week with the attitude that not much is different from 2002.
The estimated $800 million upfront (up 5 percent to 6 percent over last year) is a seller’s market, even though average weekly impressions for the 2002-03 season are down 8 percent among kids 2 to 11 compared with the 2001-02 season and overall kids viewership continues to fluctuate quarter to quarter.
With UPN’s departure from its kids block, the three remaining kids network groups can sit comfortably knowing that the buyers will come, even though the kids seem to be fleeing.
“There is a dramatic shift of kids away from TV and to the Internet,” said Rik Kinney, executive VP and research guru at NeoPets. “When we asked kids, `If you could have only one of these things [TV or Internet], which one would you choose?’ the Internet was 69 percent, television second at a distant 22 percent. And that was true of both boys and girls.”
Despite those figures, “TV advertising is still more likely to stimulate a purchase [than other media for kids]. The Internet is second, magazines third and radio is a distant fourth,” Mr. Kinney said. Advertisers know this, he said, and are willing to pay a higher price for ad time on networks even with fewer eyeballs glued to the screen.
With the war in Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks, “There have been so many anomalies in the past 24 months that I am not sure [viewership] is down as much as people say it is,” said Kim McQuilken, who oversees ad sales for AOL Time Warner’s Cartoon Network and Kids’ WB. “Without a doubt there was across-the-board dropoff, but in terms of total kids viewing, the market has rebounded a bit. Our ratings have been growing month over month.”
Kids 2 to 11 daytime delivery for Cartoon Network grew 8 percent from fourth quarter 2002 to first quarter 2003; prime time increased by 9 percent to 1.15 million homes, according to data from Nielsen Media Research.
A Hit for Kids’ WB
On Kids’ WB, Yu-Gi-Oh! ranks as the No. 1 program season-to-date among all Saturday morning competition, including cable, in boys 6 to 11 and boys 2 to 11 (tying Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants), and ranks as the No. 1 broadcast program among kids 2 to 11 and kids 6 to 11.
“Everyone is predicting the market will be up this year and cable is going to be up. From our perspective we like the way the market looks right now,” Mr. McQuilken said.
Ken Ripley, VP of ad sales for Discovery Kids, has a similar take. “Our demand is as high as it was last year and we are anticipating a good upfront,” he said.
Discovery Kids on NBC grew by 94 percent since its Oct. 5, 2002, launch among kids 6 to 11, delivering 223,000 viewers, and by 102 percent among teens 9 to 14, delivering 293,000 viewers. Kids 6 to 11 are up 92 percent, with girls up 141 percent. Teens 9 to 14 are up 102 percent, with boys up 205 percent.
New on Discovery Kids will be a kids version of the popular TLC show Trading Spaces-this one appropriately named Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls, but without the $1,000 limitations of its parent show. “We want to encourage the imagination that only kids can bring,” Mr. Ripley said. “Kids want to build a rain forest, or put a tree or basketball court in their room.” Discovery Kids will also launch the animated show Kenny the Shark, about a 10-foot tiger shark that moves in with a girl and her family.
“The market is similar to last year,” said one media planner who asked not to be named. “There is not that mad dash to the marketplace, but the major [network] players will secure promotions.”
Major Player
Shani Saitman, a media planner in the Chicago office of GSD&M, part of the Omnicom network of communications companies, said, “Our clients would like more players in the market, but there is clearly only one. Nickelodeon is the player.”
Nickelodeon, the 24-year-old Viacom TV network with its Nick Jr. preschool series airing shows such as Blue’s Clues, Little Bear, Dora the Explorer, Bill Cosby’s Little Bill and Franklin, has consistently captured the No. 1 ranking among kids 2 to 5. Its share of the 2 to 11 market grew 3 points over last season.
“We have developed deep relationships with a lot of our partners and are always in discussion,” said Jim Perry, senior VP of ad sales. “But the upfront still exists and we do a lot of business in a short window. We have a number of deals already in place.”
With programs for 6- to 11-year-olds such as The Wild Thornberrys and Rugrats, Nickelodeon had its best year ever in 2002 and expects to maintain its lead.
“We feel like we are in a good spot, and preliminary discussions indicate that it will be a strong upfront. A lot of the categories that have not had a lot of growth in years past are stepping up,” Mr. Perry said. “Toy categories big and small are spending more money. The packaged goods categories and food continue to be strong. And movies and video games are now a really big part. There are more family films coming out of Hollywood, and it is one of the largest categories for kids.”
One of Nickelodeon’s biggest partners is Ford Motor Co., Mr. Perry said. The auto manufacturer, “Is an example of our efforts to bring in new business to the kids market,” he said.
Big Spenders
The multiyear deal with Ford began in 2000. It was the first time a major automaker committed to advertise on a kids TV network. The campaign uses a “Buckle up for Safety” theme featuring the animated dog Blue of Blues Clues.
“Marketers are looking for seamless marketing opportunities and to make their advertising dollars work harder,” Mr. Perry said. “We are able to extend the reach of our business partnerships to include magazine, online and a live touring and recreation business.”
Up next season for the network are Danny Phantom, an animated show about a ghost-fighting child superhero, and a Rugrats spinoff called All Grown Up. Nickelodeon will also have My Life as a Teenage Robot, about a robotic female high schooler who saves the world, and a live-action comedy starring hip-hop artist Lil’ Romeo and his dad, Master P.
Cartoon Network, with shows such as Powerpuff Girls, Dragonball Z and Pokemon is looking to get more robust growth from this year’s upfront. “We had exponential growth in the upfront last year,” Mr. McQuilken said. “Part of the reason for our expected growth is because the Kids’ WB and Cartoon Network are now being sold by the Cartoon Network sales force.”
AOL Time Warner announced Feb. 25 that the national advertising sales force of the two networks would join forces by year-end. This combination puts the networks head-to-head with the Nickelodeon and CBS partnership.
“Our advertisers were asking for this,” Mr. McQuilken said. “They were looking for one-stop sales effort, and as our programming becomes more complementary and shared [for example, Jackie Chan Adventures and Pokemon are on both networks], that synergy makes it easier to present.”
Outside of the traditional big spenders, such as toys, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Kraft, Cartoon’s sales force is expecting growth from telecommunications, pitching cellular service, and from computer, automotive and electronic gaming.
“What Cartoon is doing will help bring back their numbers,” said John Wagner, media director at Starcom. “The WB will benefit from UPN going away. Nickelodeon will do what they do, and the other guys will fill in. Our clients simply are looking for the best return on their investment … looking for schedules that include on-air and other extensions. I don’t know if we have seen anything that will lead us to believe that anything different is happening [this year over last year].”