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Nick’s southern star

Viacom channel a panregional hit in Latin America

MEXICO CITY — Tommy Pickles and his “Rugrats” pals haven’t aged a day since they helped launch Nickelodeon in Latin America 10 years ago.

But the Viacom channel has learned a lot about what makes kids in the region tick since Dec. 20, 1996, when the first eight-hour signal kicked off.

Back then Nickelodeon was unknown. Now it reaches around 20 million homes via cablers and satcasters, has regionalized into three 24-hour channels and produces 40% of MTV Network Latin America’s revenue.

Major broadcasters throughout the region also carry blocks of Nick programming, adding 30 million more homes.

“Nickelodeon has become a household name to the consumer,” says MTV Networks Latin America managing director Pierluigi Gazzolo.

Built on the worldwide success of U.S. toon imports “Rugrats” and, later, “SpongeBob SquarePants,” local, live-action production is what will power Nick Latin America going forward.

Gazzolo, who took over in early 2005, ramped up local productions. Charlie Singer, exec VP of programming and creative strategy at MTV Latin America, had been engineering this since he moved from MTV in New York in 1999. He has set up MTV studios in Mexico and Argentina and developing Nick Latin America’s first Spanish-language live-action comedy “Skimo,” which bowed this year.

Now in its second series, a third has been greenlit and local broadcasters are beginning to pick up the program.

Produced in Mexico by Arturo Macias with fresh blood from outside Mexico’s Televisa-TVAzteca factory, show has also done well in Argentina and Brazil.

“The shock has been that this Mexican production, with a very Mexican sense of humor has been doing well in Argentina and Brazil,” Singer says. “It shows local productions are viable business … you do the best show for your local market and it turns out kids in Argentina can appreciate it, it doesn’t have to come from the U.S.”

Nick is planning its first kids’ telenovela. Singer is in talks with Argentine producer Cris Morena, creator of hit teen-novela  “Rebelde Way,” and other local producers.

“Latin America’s expertise is the telenovela and we want to develop something we could export,” Singer says.

Besides the strength of properties, Nick Latin America used an extensive series of tours and campaigns over the last decade to build-up its “for kids, by kids” brand identity.

“We focused on empowering kids, giving them voice and launching more and more interactive events,” says Tatiana Rodriquez, Nick Latin America’s programming VP, who has been with Nick since the beginning.

While broadband penetration is low in Latin America, mobile penetration has been surging and Nick Latin America is betting new media will continue to grow.

“We want to be present in every aspect of kids’ life,” Rodriguez says.