Nick's Not Letting Go of Its Lead

Nickelodeon will add seven new series this year as the cable network strives to remain the leader in kids TV. The new slate, which caters to kids from preschoolers all the way to tweens, reflect Nick's wide reach among kids 2 to 11 years old.

Executive Vice President and General Manager Cyma Zarghami said the network is spending about $130 million this year on programming. The investment comes amid a big change in the kids-TV market. In 2002, viewing of kids TV dropped 8%, the first decline in recent memory, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Senior Vice President of Ad Sales Jim Perry attributes the decline to a shrinking kids population and fewer hours of relevant programming; competitors like Fox and ABC Family have trimmed their kids blocks.

But Nickelodeon, Perry contends, isn't hurting. Its ratings grew 7% in total day last year, and, so far, 2003 numbers are strong. "We haven't seen any erosion."

So far this TV season, Nick controls 52% of gross rating points among kids, up three rating points over the same period last year, according to network analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. Its nearest competitor is Cartoon Network with 31% of the market. But Cartoon has lost four share points. Its corporate cousin, Kids WB, controls 5%, up one point from the year before.

Perry says Nick's lead has it solidly positioned in the coming upfront advertising market. "Supply is down, and demand is up. From there, we can make our own conclusions ... the market will be up."

Nick executives hope their 2003-04 programming slate will produce a few more contenders. New shows include live-action comedy Romeo, starring rapper Master P and his real-life son Lil' Romeo as a father-son hip-hop duo. All Grown Up
is a spinoff of hit Rugrats, with the kids as teenagers. My Life as a Teenage Robot
features a machine that longs to be a regular kid.

Nick will stage its own talent-search reality show for the funniest kid in America with Are You All That?.
Coming for preschoolers is a interactive show Backyardigans
and Littleburg, a three-part special hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, the show's creator.

Last year's kids upfront brought in about $800 million in advance buys. This year, the market is expected to grow in the single digits.

But, unlike the general-market upfront, which is led—and dominated—by broadcast networks, the kids arena is different. "With kids, it's cable first," said veteran media buyer Howard Nass. "Cable is delivering on kids. With other programming, it's not the same."

Nick's chief cable rival for ad dollars is Cartoon, which is trying to stem a ratings slide. (At its upfront presentation last week, Nick took a swipe at Cartoon for focusing too much on its late-night adult block. "Adult Swim." In part of the show, Nick's Dora the Explorer
encountered Cartoon's Power Puff Girls, who declared, "At our pool, it's adult swim, and all the kids have left.")

The situation is not quite that dire. Cartoon's total-day ratings were flat last year, and it's missing the robust growth it once enjoyed. To lure more viewers, Cartoon is stepping up its original-series development with three animated shows.

Cartoon recently took charge of ad sales for Kids WB. The two had been selling together for two years.

The Disney Channel—known particularly for strong delivery of girls—does not participate in the upfront market because it doesn't accept traditional spots, but it does take advertisers, like McDonald's, in the form of "sponsorships." Still, its ratings rival those of Nickelodeon and Cartoon. In February, Nick averaged a 1.6 in total-day ratings, followed by Disney at 1.1 and Cartoon at 1.0.

These days, Nickelodeon claims the lion's share of hit kids shows. So far this year, every show in the top 25 kids programs belongs to Nick, with SpongeBob SquarePants, Fairly Odd Parents
and Jimmy Neutron
leading the charge.