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More Venues Divide Kids

Feb 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

It used to be that if advertisers wanted to reach kids, they had to get their commercials on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons. But the kids marketplace has undergone a complete transformation in recent years, creating a challenging environment for advertisers.
“The notion that there’s a 24-7 network for kids and not only one but multiple 24-7 networks for kids, just isn’t something that existed 10 years ago,” said John Wagner, media director of the media-buying firm Starcom USA. “So I think the biggest challenge [for advertisers] is just breaking through.”
That challenge is tough enough, with several kid-specific cable networks competing around the clock for young eyeballs. But kids also have more distractions outside TV than ever before.
“While kids maybe aren’t watching less television,” Mr. Wagner said, “they are certainly doing other things more than they were before. They are on the telephone; they are on the Internet; they are listening to the radio; they are playing video games. They are truly in a multiscreen, multimedia environment. Television isn’t going away, but just television, in some cases, isn’t always enough.”
The kids demographic is perhaps the most volatile of all age groups. When children outgrow their favorite shows, the age group coming up behind them might have completely different tastes.
“If you’re in the kids space, there is an argument to be made that kids viewing habits and trends are difficult to keep up with,” said Jim Perry, senior VP, Nickelodeon advertising sales. “They’re fickle.”
They also have short attention spans, said Kim McQuilken, who oversees ad sales and marketing for Cartoon Network and the Kids’ WB “The No. 1 challenge is that kids need new, fresh content constantly,” Mr. McQuilken said. “That’s why when we generate a hit show, it’s very important to have a lot of new episodes in the pipeline.”
Starcom USA’s Mr. Wagner agreed but said there are ways for advertisers to overcome these challenges. “There’s watch and win. There’s sponsorships. There’s a lot of things,” he said. “While there’s maybe some restrictions on commercial content and certainly restrictions on product placement, what you can do in the gray space [is significant]. There’s a lot of those things-tagged promos, tagged tune-ins. It’s really promotionally driven.”
As an example, Mr. Wagner cited McDonald’s’ “I Can Do It” campaign on Nickelodeon, a series of six 30-second vignettes that celebrate achievements of 4- to 6-year-olds. Nickelodeon produces them and McDonald’s sponsors them on a brought-to-you-by basis. Youngsters are shown learning how to shoot a basketball, for example, or how to use a camera.
These interstitials will probably run 30 or 40 times a month on Nickelodeon and another 10 or 20 times a month on Noggin, its educational channel for preschoolers. “Ideally, the audience begins to recognize you as the long-term sponsor of that property or that platform,” Mr. Wagner said.
Another example of a kid-targeted promotion is Lego’s NBA All-Star Slam that ran last weekend on the Time Warner-owned Cartoon Network. The network aired sports-themed episodes of key cartoons such as “Johnny Bravo” and “The Powerpuff Girls” as the lead-up to the NBA All-Star Game, which aired on TNT, another Time-Warner cable network. The NBA and Lego were already in business together through an NBA-licensed Lego basketball-style game.
“We also look at if there’s some kind of promotional television aspect-a marathon, a special set of episodes-were they able to drive interest in the promotion? Are the ratings for that particular program or that block up vs. a comparable time period or a year ago?”
Mr. Wagner said these types of promotions are necessary in light of the increased competition for children’s audiences in today’s marketplace. “That’s why the broadcast guys really aren’t a player anymore,” Mr. Wagner said. “They do what they have to do to be [Federal Communications Commission-]compliant or make sure their affiliates are FCC-compliant and move on.”
Indeed, many broadcasters, including CBS, NBC and Fox, have dramatically reduced their children’s programming or have leased their kids programming to outside providers, as NBC has done with Discovery Kids.
“They’ve all decided to get out of it because it was just a very unstable business,” said Nickelodeon’s Mr. Perry. “If you’re just a part-time player, you really don’t have the opportunity to build a brand and to tap into the hearts and the minds of kids, and then you become entirely show-driven. And that’s why Nickelodeon and even for that matter Cartoon Network have done well-because we are there making a connection with kids.”
One notable exception to the rule is the Kids’ WB, a broadcast kids outlet that airs Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon.
“Kids’ WB still does a pretty substantial number when it’s on,” Mr. Wagner said. “The reason why they are most successful in broadcast is that they have unique offerings.”
Because both Kids’ WB and Cartoon Network are Time Warner companies, the two outlets have begun looking for ways to make each other stronger.
“We’ve been experimenting with cross-programming both networks,” Mr. McQuilken said. “So we’ve had some shows that have been co-produced by Warner Animation for both networks, and they’ve run on both networks. That includes new episodes of `Scooby-Doo’ and a show called `Teen Titans’ that’s very popular and doing very well on both networks.”
Trouble With Teens
While reaching a kids audience has its own set of challenges, reaching the 12 to 17 teen demographic is even more problematic.
“Teens are a difficult demographic to reach in traditional broadcast nowadays,” said Ray Dundas, senior VP, group director, national broadcast, for the media-buying firm Initiative.
“Teens are, very, very program-conscious,” Mr. Dundas said. “Generally, the audience gets progressively older as their programs move along. And you don’t have the hot new programs out there right now.
“They will gravitate to programs that are water cooler for their age group, and if they can’t find that, then they’ll go back to the music genre programming that they enjoy,” Mr. Dundas said. “It’s becoming a problem for our teen clients, quite frankly-finding viable dayparts and programs to reach teens.”
But there are ample dayparts for children. The core demographics that most advertisers target for kids are 2 to 11 and 6 to 11. Within that is the preschool demographic, which is 2 to 5. And then there is the “tween” demographic of 9 to 14.
“If you’re targeting kids 6 to 11, you’re still going to get your fair share of 2- to 5-year-olds,” Mr. Wagner said. “Now if you just want 2- to 5-year-olds, it’s easier to target them and not get 6-to-11s, but you’re still going to get some aspirational afternoon watching by 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds with big sister or big brother, if you’re targeting kids 6 to 11.
“Most of our clients are targeting 6- to 11-year-olds, and I think in most cases, that’s a smarter way to go,” he said.
“Most ads tend to run a bit older for the actual target demo because boys and girls tend to be aspirational,” Mr. McQuilken said. “They tend to look up to the older kids, and they tend to want to buy things that older kids have. “The buyers in the business want to buy 2 to 11,” Mr. McQuilken said. “The 2 to 11 and 6 to 11 make up the great majority of the money spent in the kid business. Then, secondary demos would be 9 to 14, 12 to 17 and 2 to 5. But overwhelming is 2 to 11 and 6 to 11.”
Round-the-clock cable networks have the advantage of being able to target different demographics at different time periods throughout the day.
“At Nickelodeon we target from 2 to 14 years old,” said Mr. Perry. “We program to our specific audiences. We’ve got Nick Jr., which is a sub-brand of Nickelodeon, which is all of our pre-school interactive programming-things like `Blues Clues,’ `Dora the Explorer.’ But that is a daypart that airs from Monday through Fri
day, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., and it’s delivering the younger preschool audiences.
“Then you begin to target a group-for instance, 6 to 11, 6 to 14-and that is more your core kid audience. And that’s when you get into `SpongeBob SquarePants,’ `The Fairly OddParents,”’ Mr. Perry said.
Emerging Tweens
The “tween” market of 9- to 14-year-olds, in particular, is becoming more important to advertisers.
“These kids are very media-savvy,” Mr. Perry said. “They’re very tech-savvy. They’ve got their own money to spend. They influence how mom and dad spend their money, and they’re very brand-conscious at a young age.”
As a result, Nickelodeon includes tweens in its overall programming mix with its TeeNick block of mostly live-action programming later in the day.
Notions about kids watching only children’s programming on Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons have long evaporated. With cable networks able to provide programming around the clock, advertisers must look around the clock. “Prime time is absolutely huge,” Mr. Perry said. “Today kids are watching TV around the clock in a lot of different time periods. Saturday morning is not a really important daypart anymore. From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. is where the highest ratings basically come from.”
“It opens up a lot more opportunities,” Mr. Wagner said. And one of those opportunities is the ability to capture a few adults while advertising in time periods traditionally meant for kids.
“The preschool morning block from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. is when the other kids have gone off to school,” said Mr. McQuilken, “and you get a lot of co-viewing with moms and preschoolers. So you might buy an 18 to 49 demo on Cartoon Network because you’re actually shooting for mom sitting there with the preschooler at 9 a.m.”
Boys vs. Girls
Gender plays an important role, too, as advertisers and programmers alike have to balance the differences between boys and girls.
“To some extent, girls will watch shows that skew to boys or feature boys, but you don’t necessarily see a lot of boys watching shows that skew [toward] or feature girls,” said Mr. Wagner. “So the reality is, most of the programming skews toward boys.”
There are some networks that have had success focusing on girls, particularly tween girls, Mr. Wagner said, citing the non-ad-supported Disney Channel as an example.
“Certainly boys and girls do watch different things, but they also watch a lot of the same things,” Mr. Perry said. “You look at what we’ve been able to do on Nickelodeon, which is develop programming that delivers both audiences. We create characters, whether they are male leads or female leads, that are appealing to both sexes.”
Despite all its challenges, the kids TV business is going strong, Mr. Dundas said.
“Nickelodeon continues to lead the pack in terms of overall viewers,” he said. “They came out of the fourth quarter at about a 5 percent increase in ratings for kids 2 to 11, so they are doing fine in terms of their programming skew, and Nick controls anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent of the rating points to reach kids in general.
“Then you have Cartoon Network, up 11 percent, so Cartoon is coming back a little bit. They’ve refocused a little in terms of their programming. From a cable standpoint, it seems to be a pretty viable marketplace and kids are certainly going to those two cable networks,” Mr. Dundas said.
Kids also watch popular adult shows, but there’s a significant drawback for advertisers targeting them there.
“You can get a big number on any of the major networks prime time, especially in the 8 o’clock hour for some of the shows,” said Mr. Wagner, “but it’s just not cost-effective.”
“Children still love their own kids shows,” he said. “There’s a formula for what really keeps kids coming back, and the children’s broadcasters know what that is,” Mr. McQuilken said.