NEW YORK — The kids upfront market opened its doors for business last week. The only problem is that no shoppers were waiting to get in.
The sales pitches came fast and furious, but the underlying mood was glum, as the kid biz faces a soft ad market and a glut of programming that could mean fewer ad dollars spent in the $750 million kids marketplace.
“What it boils down to at the end of the day is supply and demand,” says John Wagner, chief kids’ negotiator at Chicago-based media-buying firm Starcom North America. “When the ratings growth outpaces the demand, CPMs (cost-per-thousand) growth goes down. Once again, it’s a buyers market.”
Anxious to attract new revenues, the industry is trying to grow categories, including ones that aren’t necessarily associated with kids: automotives, consumer electronics, computers, apparel, hygiene and packaged goods.
Over the past few years, Nickelodeon has made a concerted effort to attract what it calls “non-traditional kid advertisers” and has succeeded at making deals with Gateway and Ford.
Nickelodeon’s exec VP/general sales manager Susan Danaher says that advertisers are beginning to recognize the huge purchasing influence of kids.
“Kids are pretty savvy these days, and it makes sense for a marketer to begin speaking to them early when they’re developing their brand allegiances,” says Danaher, who anticipates a day when financial services will be marketing to kids.
As a way to funnel revenue from fashion, cosmetics and music companies, both Nick and Fox Family have targeted the booming “tween” audience.
Despite the soft market and although it may still be a good month before the buying begins in earnest, sellers are already touting their new wares at dog-and-pony shows for media buyers.
Kids WB said last week at its upfront presentation in New York that it will add its first-ever live-action series “The Nightmare Room” and four new animated series to its Saturday morning and weekday slates during the 2001-02 season.
Pointing out that “Pokemon” was white-hot a year ago, WB’s senior VP of media sales Bill Morningstar says: “Sometimes I feel I should apologize that it’s not as hot as it once was. But it’s still doing great and it’s going to be on our schedule for a long time.”
Season-to-date, “Pokemon: The Johto Journeys” ranks as the No. 1 series among all Saturday morning programs for boys 2-11 and boys 6-11.
But, in the key Saturday daypart, Kids WB has fallen far behind category leader Nickelodeon. Whereas Nickelodeon’s Saturday morning kids 2-11 numbers are up 25% season-to-date compared to last year (from a 4.0 to a 5.0), Kids WB is down 24% (from a 4.1 to a 3.1).
“The WB is going to face a little bit of a ‘Pokemon’ hangover,” says one media buyer.
ABC announced that it will add two series to its “Disney’s One Saturday Morning” block this fall, including an animated skein exec produced by and starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.
The Alphabet web is in a relatively weak negotiating position, having dipped significantly in kids ratings compared with last year.
Among all kids competish, the Alphabet web ranks fourth in the 2-11 demo, averaging a 2.2 rating, a 24% decreases over last year’s 2.9. Among the 6-11 crowd, ABC also falls in fourth place — posting a 2.2 rating, down 27% from last year’s 3.0.
Fox’s ratings have also dipped since last year, with its kids 2-11 ratings down 14% from 2.8 to 2.4. Thanks to its “Nick Jr.” block, CBS is finally showing signs of life on Saturday ayem, averaging a solid 1.8 in 2-11 season-to-date.
Without a doubt, the strongest growth story has been on the cable side. Wagner estimates that cable programming represents 80% of the commercial rating points available each week in kids TV.
“Smart buyers will shift more dollars to cable as that becomes where the bulk of the ratings points are,” Wagner says. “But that shift won’t allow them to command a premium.”
In addition to the ratings boom at Nick, Cartoon Net has also seen its viewership increase. Season-to-date, in 2-11 on Saturday mornings, the kids cabler is up 13% compared to last year.
But even with its ratings uptick, Cartoon Network isn’t expecting CPM increases. “We don’t see a huge growth in dollars, so we’re going to be taking money from our competitors,” says Cartoon Net’s sales and marketing senior VP Karl Kuechenmeister. “In a more robust market, we would be in a stronger position to get CPM increases.”
But like kids themselves, the moppet biz is remarkably fickle, which only serves to fuel programmers’ hopes that they’ll latch on to the next big thing.
“Whether it’s ‘Pokemon’ or “Power Rangers’ or ‘Rugrats,’ everybody is one hit away from being No. 1,” says Starcom’s Wagner.