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Nicktoons Marvels At Heroes

Nicktoons is quickly discovering that the action-hero genre can pack a major ratings punch.

The animation-based network, which has mostly relied on comedic shows such as SpongeBob SquarePants, is coming off its best viewership quarter in history, due mostly to the January launch of Wolverine and The X-Men — the first series launched as part of a content-development partnership with Marvel Studios.

The network hopes to reach even more of its young male audience with the April 24 launch of Marvel's Iron Man: Armored Adventures series, according to Keith Dawkins, general manager of the 52 million-subscriber network (see Review, this page).

Marvel-based content has already proven to be a big draw: the January premiere of the animated Wolverine and The X-Men — which follows the steel-clawed superhero and his counterparts in the X-Men — drew 589,000 viewers to the channel, a network record for a premiere show. Through eight episodes, the series is averaging a network-series-high 510,000 viewers, beating out such venerable shows as SpongeBob SquarePants.

More importantly, the show has helped set a primetime audience record during the first quarter of 2009 within its core demo of 6-to-11-year-old boys, as well as with kids 6 to 11, tweens 9 to 11 and boys 9 to 14, according to Dawkins.

Dawkins said Wolverine and the upcoming Iron Man series bring an action element with familiar characters to the channel, which has mostly relied on off-Nickelodeon comedic animation series such as SpongeBob and, more recently, The Penguins of Madagascar. He added that the success of the comedy-action series Avatar: The Last Airbender, showed that the genre has appeal to its core audience.

“We have the best [animated] comedies out there, so we will always be a place that will make kids laugh,” Dawkins said. “But it's the other things boys like — action/adventure, sci-fi and superheroes — that motivated us to do the Marvel deal.”

For Marvel, Nicktoons gives the successful and prolific movie studio a cable outlet committed to exhibiting as well as promoting its library of iconic superhero titles, according to Marvel Animation president Eric Rollman.

“The partnership has exceeded our expectation with regards to the performance of the show,” Rollman said. “The promotion and the marketing that Nicktoons has been doing online, on-air and offline has been exceptional and has helped propel it to the level that it's at.”

He added that the two series will help build momentum for the Wolverine and Iron Man 2 live action theatrical movies set to debut in May and 2010, respectively. Marvel is in talks with Nicktoons on other projects, added Rollman, but he would not disclose specifics.

Marvel has already begun development on an additional 26 episodes of Wolverine, but has yet to reach a renewal deal with Nicktoons for the series, according to network officials.

Whatever the outcome, Dawkins said the Marvel partnership has already delivered a powerful brand boost for the channel.

“With the Marvel deal, I think we're creating this environment where a kid can show up at our doorstep to get the best of comedy as well as this action-adventure superhero element our audience loves, and that is a tremendous win for us,” Dawkins said.

R. Thomas Umstead
R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.