Execs: Kids Ads Going Up by 5%

Mar 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

As the two biggest players in the kids business, Cartoon Network and Nickel-odeon, start talks with ad buyers this month about their upcoming programming, executives with the kids networks claimed their upfronts last year were successful and that they expect small gains again this year.

Cartoon’s upfront last year showed double-digit year-to-year growth and the bulk of business was done before the prime-time upfronts started in late May, said Kim McQuilken, executive VP of Cartoon Network advertising sales and marketing and Cartoon Network Enterprises.

This year, Mr. McQuilken expects the entire kids upfront, estimated to be worth about $800 million, to grow by 5 percent overall.

The kids upfront is a fairly concentrated affair. Cartoon Network, which presented its programming to buyers last week, and Nickelodeon, which presents this week, dominate on the sales side, while two or three agencies, including Starcom, act as the key buyers.

Presentations take place in March, and the kids market normally moves in April, though last year the market went on into summer.

“A lot of people were hesitant to pay what the vendors were coming out with,” said Dan Kopec, media director of Starcom USA. “I don’t have any information that it’s going to be any worse than last year, and last year was relatively soft, except for certain weeks that got tight.”

Jim Perry, senior VP of ad sales for Nickelodeon, is upbeat as well. “It’s going to be a good, strong upfront for all of our platforms,” he said.

Mr. Perry said that about a third of Nickelodeon’s upfront business is already done through multiyear deals made in last year’s negotiations.

He added that the market should be tighter because Cartoon’s ratings are down significantly. So far this season Cartoon is down 20 percent among kids 2-11, while Nick is off 6 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research ratings cited by Cartoon Network. But Cartoon notes that its ratings are bouncing back, jumping 13 percent in February from the prior month (Nick was up 10 percent).

Cartoon Network has done some pre-upfront deals as well, Mr. McQuilken said. Cartoon’s deals were done in conjunction with its licensing unit. Companies that have made deals to either produce licensed products or do promotions using Cartoon’s characters still must lock in promotional windows.

“There’s a good chance before the upfront breaks we’ll have a significant amount of business done already,” he said.

Mr. Kopec was more circumspect. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of advocacy groups going after clients that are advertising to kids. A lot of obesity issues,” he said.

No Lost Appetites

Both networks take the kids health issue seriously but said it’s not hurting the ad market. With most food companies, “It’s affecting the type of product being marketed, not the amount of advertising,” Mr. Perry said.

Multiplatform deals are becoming a bigger part of the kids business.

“There is going to be a lot more interesting deals with multiple platforms and emerging media,” Mr. Perry said.

“Last year we had hard dollars put against new media platforms,” Mr. McQuilken said, ticking off broadband video streaming, gaming and VOD. “Our VOD product for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim is virtually sold out six months in advance. It’s still a limited universe in terms of distribution, but growing.”

Mr. McQuilken said the money being spent on new media doesn’t seem to be cannibalizing TV spending, noting that Cartoon exceeded its first-quarter scatter goals. “I think it’s new budgets,” he said. “It’s not that the existing online advertisers are greatly increasing their budgets, it’s new advertisers coming online.”

Mr. Perry said Nickelodeon and its digital siblings (such as video-on-demand, broadband video and interactive content) are seeing money from new categories, including electronics and technology, such as cellphone and wireless companies. “It’s clearly changing the way consumers are interacting with our brand,” he said.

Mr. Kopec said the digital options were attractive.

“It intuitively makes sense because those touch points are more accountable, more engaging, so we’re trying to educate our clients that that’s the right way to go,” he said. “It’s probably worth paying a little bit more for that, because you theoretically should get more out of it. But the key is putting in those accountability metrics to show the payout to us and our clients.”

At its upfront last week Cartoon Network said it will add new programs “Squirrel Boy” and “Class of 3000” to its lineup in November.

The network is also planning four original movies, including its first production combining live action and animation. The movie, “Reanimated,’ about a 12-year-old boy who gets a brain transplant from a cartoon artist, is scheduled to premiere in the fall.

The other two-hour movies are based on the series “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends,” “Codename: Kids Next Door” and “Teen Titans.” Cartoon Network also said it plans a third season for “Ben 10.”