Cabler's totals put it atop kidvid mountain

Nickelodeon released ratings numbers Monday that indicate the dominant kiddie cabler will, for the first time, outperform all of its competition, including Fox Kids Network, in viewership among kids aged 2-11 for the full 1996-97 season.

Citing Nielsen figures that chart the period from Sept. 2, 1996, to July 27, 1997, Nickelodeon boasts a national kids rating of 3.2 in the 2-11 demo to outpoint Fox Kids (2.9), ABC (2.7), Disney’s syndicated product (1.8), UPN (1.5), the Kids WB (1.3), CBS (1.3) and the Cartoon Network (0.7).

The network also claims to have captured a staggering 56% of the gross rating points (GRPs), bettering its numbers year-to-year by 15%. GRPs indicate the combined viewing percentage over a given period. The 56% means that Nickelodeon now commands that portion of the 2-11 audience tuned to programming aimed specifically at kids, and excludes the majority of primetime.

Nickelodeon’s GRPs for kids aged 6-11 are even higher, according to the network’s research: 58% for the season through July 27.

Moreover, the 7:30 nightly showing of “Rugrats” on Nickelodeon is now TV’s top-rated show among kids 2-11, with a national average of 6.4. Nick’s 8-8:30 primetime block that it launched in October averages a 4.8 nationally, outperforming the broadcast networks an average of four out of seven nights in the target demo.

“We’ve spent the last 18 years building a strong relationship with kids, and now we’re in their hearts and minds more than ever,” said Cyma Zarghami, G.M. for Nickelodeon and senior VP of programming for Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite.

Yet while there is no disputing Nickelodeon’s phenomenal stranglehold on the children’s demo, some in the industry don’t find comparisons between a full-time kids purveyor and part-timers like Fox Kids to be a fair one. Nickelodeon, after all, programs more than 100 hours each week aimed at kids, while Fox Kids devotes a mere three hours per day, and networks like ABC and CBS dedicate a mere handful of hours on weekends.

“This is not a Fox vs. Nickelodeon competition,” insisted Janeen Bjork, senior VP and director of programming for the TV advertising rep firm Seltel.

“Nickelodeon chooses to use the numbers it does because it makes them look good,” Bjork added. “What they don’t take into account is the portion of the kid viewing pie going to ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Home Improvement’ and other shows in syndication. And when you have so many more hours devoted to kids than most of your competition, your GRPs are bound to be high.”

Maureen Smith, senior VP of planning and program scheduling for Fox Kids, agreed.

“What you see in those (Nickelodeon) numbers is the advantage of being on 100-plus hours a week,” Smith said. “We recognize the strengths in being on that many hours, and that’s why we’re so excited about getting into the cable business. We too will be able to have shows on at 7:30 at night and take advantage of the high usage levels.”

Smith was referring to the fact that Fox Kids Net programming will soon be telecast on the Family Channel, as well as over the broadcast air in the wake of the cable network’s purchase by News Corp. No launch date for the weekday Fox Kids lineup on Family Channel has been announced, but sources indicate the simulcasts could begin as early as this fall.

Smith said she is “looking forward to the opportunity to reach more kids. If you’re on the air more often, the odds of kids tuning in your channel more often are greater. The advantage of being on all the time with shows aimed at kids is incalculable.”

Nickelodeon’s Zarghami doesn’t dispute Nickelodeon’s programming edge in having such a narrow demo target.

“It works to distinguish us that we’re there for one audience and one audience only,” she said. “It’s helped to give us incredible control of that share.”

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