MBPT Spotlight: With Ratings Down, Kids Nets Stress Multiplatform Ads

As the kids upfront approaches, lower ratings are making it harder for marketers to reach young consumers.

For networks, that means more content on more platforms to generate interactivity and engagement to keep money from slipping away to digital and mobile options.

“I think that TV still works,” says Amy Ginsberg, managing director of investment at Initiative. “Will some money move, of course it will.” But TV will still be an important part of the mix. “You have to have a holistic media strategy because that is what truly works.”

Network sales executives are optimistic going into the market, pointing to stronger marketing efforts by toymakers, movie studios and retailers to reach kids and families.

Currently, the big exception to sliding ratings is Turner Broadcasting’s Cartoon Network, which rose last year and is up double digits among kids 2-11 so far this year across a broad array of shows. Last week, Cartoon announced six new programs and 11 returning series.

Donna Speciale, president of ad sales at Turner, says that in addition to its typically strong numbers among boys, Cartoon’s increased viewership includes a lot of girls as well. “We’ll be a much more dual player in the kids’ space,” she says. “We’re probably going to see a larger advertiser base come to us.”

With a broader audience, and the return of the Power Puff Girls, Cartoon expects to be a bigger player in licensing with marketers.

At its Feb. 25 upfront, Jim Perry, Nickelodeon head of sales, plans to remind clients that despite lower ratings, Nick remains No. 1. “Looking at the performance of the new SpongeBob movie and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys, the consumer is still engaged with and consuming our content,” he says.

Perry will be urging clients to keep their ad dollars within the Nickelodeon environment of four linear networks and numerous online and mobile platforms to increase the impact of their marketing. “We’re working much more closely with clients on deeper partnerships that go way beyond TV,” he says.

Over the next two weeks, Disney will be bringing its best clients to either Disney World or Lucasfilm for meetings aimed at finding new opportunities to work together and amplify their marketing messages.

“While linear television will always be the foundation on which we build many of our multiplatform packages, what we found over this last year is that we get an incremental 37% of total impressions when we extend those programs out with [video-on-demand], the Watch App, video on our website or social platforms and games,” says Rita Ferro, executive VP, Disney media sales and marketing.

Ferro says that Disney gives clients an estimate of how many impressions a multiplatform campaign will generate and makes a CPM-like guarantee using the best available research.

Sandy Wax, president of NBCUniversal’s Sprout, says the 10-year-old network will be emphasizing “Fresh First” this season, with a new logo, new on-air look and new original programming coming every quarter.

Originally, Sprout took ads only for moms coviewing with their kids, but now it takes spots aimed at children, says Laura Molen, executive VP for ad sales at NBCU. “We’ve seen growth in the toy category as well as the studio category,”Molen says. Despite figures from SNL Kagan to the contrary Molen maintains ad revenue was up last year.

Molen adds that Sprout is finding new ways to integrate advertisers into network content and is working with other NBCU units. One retailer did a multiplatform campaign built around a contest to find the “kindest kid” in the country. Kids entered via Sprout but voting was promoted on NBC’s Today show.

“By using multiplatform and parts of the NBCU portfolio, clients can expand their message,” Molen says. “Advertisers tell us it works.”

Turner’s New Kid On the Kids Block

The week Christina Miller was appointed to run Turner Broadcasting’s kids and young adults businesses, Adult Swim announced the network would be airing a new show, Black Jesus.

Black Jesus was controversial. It generated attention. Most important, it was a hit and recently was renewed.

“I often think of it as my welcome gift,” says Miller.

The gifts have kept coming. Cartoon Network, which also reports to Miller, has seen its ratings rise while its major competitors, Viacom’s Nickelodeon and the Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Channel, have suffered steep declines. That puts Miller’s collection of networks in good position as the upfront market approaches.

Turner parent company Time Warner sees the kids and young adult business as one of its growth areas. Boomerang has been relaunched as a second global kids brand and Turner is expected to work more closely with Warner Bros. to develop fresh programming for its networks.

But at the same time, the challenges facing other parts of the TV industry are impacting networks with young viewers faster and harder.

“The rate of change is accelerating,” Miller says. “It’s not disruption. It’s just the speed of business. I think adapting to that is kind of the fun part.”

Cartoon Network is in a unique position because while its ratings are growing, it’s also adding video-on-demand viewers and fans are downloading its apps, according to Miller.

Growing across multiple platforms is a necessity in the current media environment, she says.

“I think of the business as growing overall consumption and making sure that we’re able to do that in more than one place because that’s what this generation of kids and fans expect from us—choice,” she says.

On one hand, young viewers demand the content they want, when they want it and on the device they want to use. But they’re also willing to share content and evangelize for it. They build profiles and personalities around content that resonates.

“So our role as a brand and a content provider is to give them content that they relate to, they identify with and they care about,” Miller says. “The reward for doing so is more consumption.”

One new way Cartoon is providing content is through its CN Anything mobile platform, which offers snackable content aimed at viewers who are not only digital natives but mobile natives.

She points to an interesting statistic when it comes to CN Anything: Users spend 10 minutes or more engaging with that platform. Since most of the content is only 15 seconds in length, that means users are making a very conscious decision to interact.

McDonald’s was an early sponsor of CN Anything, using special shorter-length ads to fit in with the content format.

In the absence of a ratings system that measures TV, digital and mobile viewing the same way, networks such as Cartoon will need to work harder to monetize their audiences.

“In the near term, we continue to make sure that we’re innovative, that we’re having a dialog with all of our clients and partners, and that we’re able to deliver them flow of audience, engagement across these platforms and prove it based on the metrics that we have,” Miller says.

Miller is pleased with the early results at the relaunched Boomerang. “The air looks fresh and like a real companion to Cartoon Network,” she says. Coming up soon are original series for Boomerang. “That would be a next natural step,” she adds.

And after 10 years, Adult Swim rolls on as a brand that resonates deeply with its fans. That engagement also makes it popular with advertisers.

Last year, Turner executives hinted that Adult Swim’s original content might serve as the basis for an over-the-top product, but Miller didn’t have an announcement to make yet.

“Like everyone else, we’re all looking at what the opportunities are and what our approach should be in that space,” she says.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.