Kids Upfront Looks Nearly Wrapped Up

The 2000-2001 kids' upfront is just about concluded except for a trickle of business from some smaller ad agencies' buys, cable-network executives said early this month, and it will finish flat, as projected.

In each of the past two years, most industry sources said, cable's share of the "kidvid" upfront has been in the $450 million range. Factoring in the broadcast-television networks, the kids' upfront is said to be $750 million-plus.

The two largest kids' buyers-Grey Advertising's MediaCom Worldwide and Leo Burnett USA's Starcom Worldwide-have now made their deals.

Grey's kids' accounts include Kraft Foods and Hasbro Inc., and Burnett's include McDonald's Corp. The two agencies are said to represent a combined 30 percent of the total kids' broadcast/cable marketplace.

A Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc. spokesman said it had wrapped two-thirds of its business, and Cartoon Network and The WB Television Network "drove up share significantly" in the upfront, in part at the expense of leader Nickelodeon.

A published report added that those two sister networks were among the few to get cost-per-thousand gains, in the single digits.

But MTV Networks president of U.S. ad sales John Popkowski disputed those claims as "not true. We're happy with our [Nickelodeon] prices," he added, without offering details.

Once again Popkowski downplayed the importance of the upfront for Nick, reiterating, "We do participate, but it's not an important part of our business [anymore]. Our business goes 52 weeks per year, and it is not relegated to a two-week window."

Grey's buys were finalized two weeks ago, and Starcom's about four weeks ago, Popkowski said last Thursday, but "the large majority of our business was done two months ago."

MTVN's advertiser negotiations often take months to conclude, he explained, because deals with Kraft/General Mills Inc., McDonald's and the like are so multifaceted and involve promotional tie-in aspects.

Dan Barnathan, senior vice president of sales at ABC Television Network and, since February, also of the consolidated Disney Kids Network, said, "The majority of the [upfront] money has been spent-somewhere north of 85 percent or 90 percent."

"Although the overall market was relatively flat and CPMs were relatively flat, too, we took in more money than a year ago," in part because Toon Disney's first upfront foray "went great," Barnathan added last Thursday. Toon Disney previously announced that it is going ad-supported this fall.

Despite recent published reports about weakening in the toy and fast-food fields, Barnathan said, "They still seem healthy to me." Newer categories that proved strong, he added, were personal care (including shampoos), apparel, footwear and home video.

"Some buyers are holding back for the scatter market for flexibility," he said, "but they may be surprised to find [that fall and pre-Christmas] inventory will be tight."

Unlike the much larger primetime-upfront marketplace, the cable- and broadcast-TV networks run their kiddie upfronts concurrently.