Promos, stunts, events lined up to grab viewers

The Big Three are gearing up for a summer of special events, programming stunts and promo blitzes. No, we’re not talking about ABC, CBS and NBC, but rather kidvid titans Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

Summertime is primetime for kid- and tween-centric cablers, for obvious reasons: No school, no homework and bedtimes tend to be more lax, especially for those in the prized 9-14 tween demo. Summer viewing among kids in the 2-14 age range has grown about 5% during the past three years, according to Nickelodeon research.

Disney Channel has been the big Mouse on the kidvid block for the past few years, thanks to its string of hit series and telepics, most recently “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “Sonny With a Chance.” But Nickelodeon in recent months has been coming on strong with the ratings growth of its live-action comedies “iCarly” and “True Jackson, VP.”

Summer is a particular programming challenge for kidvid cablers because weekday skeds become as important as weekends, says Peter Danielsen, Nickelodeon’s exec veep of programming.

“You’ve got to shift the balance of your schedule to load up weekdays” with reruns of top shows that skew to older kids, Danielsen says. “And you’ve got to have a lot of big events on weekends.”

Top shows like Disney’s “Hannah Montana” and “iCarly” generally average about 1.3 million-1.6 million viewers in the 6-11 and 9-14 demos for a preem telecast. But the competish between Disney and Nick extends well beyond ratings.

Both channels invest heavily in turning their stars and shows into cottage industries that grab kids’ attention on the Web, and can sell all manner of merchandise, vidgames, recordings, concert and movie tickets.

Nick’s “iCarly,” which revolves around the titular character producing webcasts that make her an overnight star, even boasts its own line of webcams and digital cameras.

The payoff in kidvid is huge when it works — hundreds of millions of “Hannah Montana” dollars huge — but it takes a 24/7 effort to ensure that tween hitmakers like “iCarly’s” Miranda Cosgrove and “Sonny With a Chance’s” Demi Lovato stay multiplatform cool with a notoriously fickle demo.

The interactive nature of “iCarly” has helped the show capture the user-generated zeitgeist. Viewers are given specific assignments to send in vids for possible inclusion on air, or on the “iCarly” webcast via Nick.com.

Since the February debut of “Sonny,” that show and “iCarly” are running neck and neck in the kids 6-11 demo with an average of 1.6 million viewers for premiere telecasts, while “Sonny” (1.5 million), “Wizards of Waverly Place” (1.47 million) and “iCarly” (1.35 million) rank as the top three shows among 9-14s for the Feb. 8-May 24 frame.

Cartoon Network, meanwhile, is launching a bold bid in June to remake two nights of its primetime sked — with live-action shows, no less. The overhaul includes a campaign to brand the Wednesday and Saturday blocks as “CN Real,” to get around the inherent contradiction of the cabler running non-toon programs.

While Disney and Nick battle for young femmes, the “CN Real” programs are squarely aimed at their brothers.

The cabler’s new Wednesday slate, which bows June 17, is billed as adventure night, with the spooky ghost-hunting drama “The Othersiders” and real-teens-sent-into-the-wild vehicle “Survive This.”

Starting June 20, Saturday is guy-fun night anchored by “Destroy Build Destroy” — a youthful spin on “Junkyard Wars” — and “BrainRush,” a gameshow that takes place on a roller coaster.

Cartoon’s “CN Real” push aims to build on its success the past two years in firmly staking out the boy demo with the success of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Ben 10.”

Like their grownup counterparts, boy viewers are particularly elusive for the larger broadcast and cable nets, and as such, they comprise a profitable niche for Cartoon with advertisers. The live-action programming is an effort hang onto that aud a little longer after they feel like they’ve outgrown cartoons.

Disney is taking aim at the boy aud as well, with its recently relaunched Disney XD cabler, which has two live-action series preems set for next month: skateboarding buddy comedy “Zeke and Luther,” and teen sports competition “Next X,” which culminates with a spesh in August originating from ESPN’s X Games 15 event.

In the 24/7 realm of kidvid, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon compete fiercely for hearts and eyeballs, but they do not typically go head to head with high profile originals in the same timeslot with premiere episodes.

Disney tends to focus on Friday and Sunday nights, while Nick has “iCarly” and “True Jackson” on Saturday nights. Premiere timeslots are also less important on both nets because reruns of their original skeins are plentiful in various dayparts.

“The true success of a show for Nickelodeon is how it plays throughout the week,” Danielsen says. “We need our shows to perform really well (in reruns) on weekday afternoons to drive ratings and buzz.”

Disney’s has had the hot hand when it comes to launching stars and franchises with telepics that it tubthumps into must-see events. The latest, bowing June 26, has the ingredients of a hit, combining “Sonny” star Lovato with “Wizards of Waverly Place’s” Selena Gomez in the odd-couple comedy “Princess Protection Program.” “Wizards” will also have its own telepic slated to air in August.

Nick has followed the event-movie cue. George Lopez and Jane Lynch will star in “Mr. Troop Mom,” a soccer summer camp laffer also featuring numerous Nick series thesps, set to preem June 19. Lopez was a fit for Nick because reruns of his erstwhile ABC sitcom “George Lopez” are a cornerstone of the post-8 p.m. Nick at Nite lineup.

Nick scored last month with a heavily promoted hourlong “iCarly” seg, “iDate a Bad Boy,” that drew some 6.5 million viewers in its May 9 debut — topping the competing NBA playoffs coverage on TNT. More hourlong segs of “iCarly” and “True Jackson, VP” with highly promotable guest stars are planned for later in the summer.

Also on tap for Nick is a host of “SpongeBob SquarePants” 10th-anniversary programming set to hit in July, which should provide a strong promotional platform for the second wave of its summer sked.

Not to be outdone, Disney is plotting a tri-part crossover “event” with three top shows. Characters from “Hannah Montana,” “The Suite Life on Deck” and “Wizards of Waverly Place” will mingle in three separate segs to air in each show’s regular time slot in July.

The stunt will be promoted, as only the Disney marketing machine can, as “Wizards on Deck With Hannah Montana.”

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