Televisa, Nick make licensing deal; nets spin off versions of programs

Latino broadcasters are jostling with pay TV nets for the lucrative kiddie market in youth-dominated Latin America where Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network and Discovery Kids have topped ratings for years.

Mexico’s Televisa recently inked a licensing deal with Nickelodeon in a bid for the profitable merchandising market. In Argentina, some nets are spinning off film and stage versions of their youth programs. Globo’s popular kiddie variety program “Xuxa,” hosted by Xuxa Meneghel, has generated a boffo movie franchise in Brazil.

As one Televisa exec says about the Nickelodeon pact, the net needed to “get a piece of ‘SpongeBob.’ “

Under the deal, Televisa and Nickelodeon may co-produce projects in the future. “This is a sign of mutual confidence between the two companies,” says Jose Baston, Televisa’s VP for TV operations, who adds that Televisa’s editorial arm would begin publishing kid-targeted “Nick” magazine in Mexico.

It’s the first deal by MTV Latin America (which oversees Nickelodeon in that territory) with another media company in the region.

Televisa devotes one of its four nationwide channels to children’s programs, mainly cartoons. Second-ranked TV Azteca has plumbed its output deal with Disney, producing the “Disney Show” and running large blocks of animated and live-action children’s shows.

Many Latino broadcasters produce what they know best — child- or teen-targeted telenovelas.

Last year, Televisa’s fantasy novela “Alegrijes y Rebujos,” hit it big. Its theme song reached the top 10 in radio charts, spawning apparel, toys and albums.

Televisa currently airs three kid-targeted novelas: “Mission S.O.S.,” “Amy, la nina con la mochila azul” and “Suenos y Caramelos.” Another novela, “Corazones al limite,” is aimed at teens.

After the 2001-02 economic collapse in Argentina, broadcasters began scheduling children’s shows in a bid for more ad coin from companies like Coca-Cola, Groupe Danone and Nestle, the few advertisers that didn’t slash budgets after the crisis.

In the past, most kiddie ad coin went to feevees led by Cartoon Network et al. Now the nets are muscling in on the market for a bigger share of that coin.

Music-themed programs abound. Fourth-ranking America TV airs “Rebelde Way,” a telenovela about a teenie pop band. Erreway, the foursome on the show, cut an album and went on local and international tours. Their success led to product endorsements from perfume to school products.

Last year, the fourth-biggest draw at the box office was “Rebelde Way, la pelicula” (Rebel’s Way, the Movie) starring the band.

Bandana, the group that emerged from third-ranking Canal 9’s talent show “Popstars,” also does gigs, releases albums and star in its own hit movie. Merchandising generated even more revenue.

Leading broadcaster Telefe airs “Frequencia 04″ (FM 2004), a teen telenovela about the creation of a pop band and a radio station.

Telefe also airs Disney Planet, hosted by Maru Botana.

As in the rest of the region, kids channels lead the feevee ratings in Brazil. But with pay TV in just 3.5 million of Brazil’s estimated 40 million households, the webs reach a fraction of the potential audience.

Nearly all nets air kids programming in the mornings. Host Xuxa Meneghel established the classic model of these shows in the 1980s. “Xuxa” became a phenomenon with a kidshow that featured games, quizzes, dances, sketches, cartoons and her music performances.

She became a national celebrity, eventually expanding into film, product licensing and a career in other Latin American countries.

But after 20 years of leadership, Xuxa’s current TV show on market leader Globo seems to have lost its appeal.

“Xuxa no mundo da imaginacao” (Xuxa in the World of Imagination), her Monday-to-Friday morning program frequently trails “Bom dia & cia” (Good Day and Co.)” a kids show on No. 2 net SBT.

But the TV ratings slump has not hit her movies. The past five “Xuxa” pics have scored average admissions of 2.1 million to 2.6 million. The first animated “Xuxa” film is due out in June.

(Ken Bensinger in Mexico, Charles Newbery in Argentina and Marcelo Cajueiro in Brazil contributed to this report.)

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