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With the arrival of Discovery-Hasbro entity the Hub in October and the coming of Disney Junior in 2012, the battle for kids’ affections is the most competitive it’s ever been.

Selling to kids is a one-two punch. The market represents $1.7 billion in annual advertising revenue, according to SNL Kagan, but the bonus is that selling to kids also means reaching their mothers. Women control 73% of household spending or $4 trillion in discretionary U.S. household income, according to a report Congress’ Joint Economic Committee released in December — and much of that is on the kids.

With those figures in hand, kid cablers will engage in their annual “upfront” presentation to the advertising community over the next few weeks. Nets present their programming wares and lock in ad rates up front before the scatter market begins.

“The kids’ marketplace is still huge. The reason why there are a lot of players in the market now is because it’s been very robust,” says Hub president-CEO Margaret Loesch. “As long as people have kids and as long as kids love entertainment, it’s going to be robust market.”

“What all the competition is forcing everyone to do is be sharper on your game and present great entertainment across the board to your audience,” says Cartoon Network president Stuart Snyder. “Competition is a good thing in any environment, in any business. The successful players are more connected to their audience than ever before.”

While the market is competitive, it’s also distinct, with each player offering a specific brand and unique content. Disney’s first focus is tween-tinged live-action series, although it also offers popular animated shows such as “Phineas and Ferb.”

Nickelodeon, whether it’s “iCarly” or “SpongeBob SquarePants,” is all about the funny. Boy-friendly Cartoon Network is staying true to its animation brand while expanding into a live-action series such as “Dude, What Would Happen” and “Destroy Build Destroy.” And parental favorite PBS — both in broadcast with PBS Kids and PBS Kids Go, and on cable with PBS Kids Sprout — continues to pursue curriculum-based children’s programming that arrives in cleverly written and produced packages.

Still, all the players are focusing on certain hot areas, including co-viewing, live-action and digital platforms.

Co-viewing — a relatively new term for the old-fashioned habit of kids watching TV with their parents — is the trend of the day. It’s easier to say than do, because it can be tough to create shows that kids and parents are equally interested in watching.

“The attractiveness of co-viewing is that you are able to grow your audience and speak to brands who want to be in family space versus just the kids’ space. But to do that we have to have great shows that kids want to see,” says Cartoon’s Snyder.

“Co-viewing has always been a goal, but on the newer digital platforms it’s important and dynamic,” says Terry Fitzpatrick, exec VP of content distribution for Sesame Workshop. “Digital platforms give us an opportunity to allow parents to share content with kids, whether they are in a car or passing an iPad back and forth at a doctor’s office. That way they can share Sesame content much like they read a book at bedtime.”

In fact, kids are among the most demanding of digital customers, because they’re unaware of a world in which digital components of their favorite shows don’t exist.

“Kids expect that we’ll be everywhere and that we’ll be there in unique ways. That’s a challenge,” says Loesch. She and others recognize the huge opportunity that digital platforms offer, from engagement to sponsorships.

“Some 95% of our promotional partnerships are integrated,” says John O’Hara, Cartoon Network’s exec VP-g.m. “There’s a linear and digital component to every show and we execute on both. It’s a very important part of our business and our advertisers have come to rely on that integration.”

Finally, the popularity of shows such as Disney’s “Hannah Montana Forever” and “Shake It Up” and Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” means that any kids’ network ignores live-action programming at its peril.

“There’s been a lot of demand from our audience for live-action properties from us,” says Pete Danielsen, Nick’s exec VP of programming. “At certain times in our history, we’ve been more famous for animation than live action. Now we’ve launched a string of successful live action and animated shows. The balance between them is a trend we see coming back.”

More from Kids Upfronts
Kids programming more competitive than ever | Kids’ ad market on right course | The Hub learning as it goes