UPFRONT & CENTER: Kids Going Steady

The kids' upfront presentations start this week with Nickelodeon, and signs point to a marketplace that's flat to slightly up, as it has been in recent years.

Last year, the kids' market dragged into the summer as haggling over metrics—whether to include DVR viewing—took its toll. But the market finished its strongest in several years to just under $1 billion. This year it's still challenged by consumer activists' complaints about fast food advertisers, but continues to profit from theatrical movie ads.

Although a recession could affect the broadcast upfront, and that of the adult-targeted cable networks, kids' networks would likely be shielded from its effects for one big reason: Christmas comes but once a year, and parents still believe in Santa.

Advertisers always fight for a limited number of slots in the holiday season, the weeks before Easter and the start of school. Says Daniel Barnathan, president of 4Kids, the company that this year will program Saturday kids' shows for the CW and Fox, buyers who opt out of holiday spots during the upfronts could pay dearly later—as much as 15% more—if they try to buy in a scatter market.

Because of that, networks are bullish heading into their presentations.

Nickelodeon, which presents March 13 in New York's Hammerstein Ballroom, will stress its omnipresence; last year Nick laid plans to co-brand 20 new hotels with Marriott, as well as get into the cruise business. It also plans more live tours with its stars.

The network commands more than half of the kids' upfront dollars and projects that this year spending from “nontraditional” advertisers—those targeting adults as well as kids—will be up 50% during the upfront.

That's because it expects to bring on new partners in adult categories, like automotive, financial and insurance, with family-focused programming. Last year it did deals with new partners including Chrysler, Royal Caribbean and Hertz.

“We're taking the Nickelodeon brand to higher and higher heights and making it more about kids, but also kids and families,” says Jim Perry, executive VP of ad sales for Nickelodeon and MTV Networks' Kids and Family Group.

Cartoon Network, which presents April 3, will stress its more sophisticated fare like its new Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, which debuts in August. Cartoon wants to involve advertisers in that project. In its growing digital sector, this summer it plans its first massive, multiplayer online game (MMOG), “Fusion Fall.”

“Digital has become no longer just an afterthought,” says Beth Goss, executive VP, Cartoon Network Ad Sales, Marketing & Enterprises.

The network's digital sales have been largely tied to individual programming initiatives, but she says now Cartoon is cutting digital deals throughout the year.

“It's a key component to our relationships with our partners and as we look to the upfront and build plans with our sponsors, it's a key component to our deals.”

Disney, which presents April 9, will focus on how the company leverages TV, online, radio, publishing and other media to make franchises out of its properties and megastars out of its young talent. It will feature a presentation from Demi Lovato, the 15-year old star of the new show Camp Rock.

Disney Channel isn't ad-supported but it's cable's most-watched network, and executives will stress the popularity of the brand across digital and other platforms that are ad supported. Also part of the pitch—kids' and families' emotional connection to the brand.

Says Tricia Wilber, executive VP Disney Media Advertising Sales and Marketing Group, “It's about giving our advertisers and clients a sneak peek and pulling back the curtain in terms of our talent and how we do this and build this connection and make these stars as opposed to a traditional sales presentation.”

For complete coverage of the upfronts, click here.