Nickelodeon sees 20% ratings drop

Net adds fresh toon, live-action programming

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said generally steady-eddy kids’ cable network Nickelodeon had experienced a highly unusual 15%-20% ratings drop in mid-September.

The company is working with Nielsen and analyzing independent set-top box data and, at the same time, adding fresh animated and live-action programming to the net, Dauman said during a conference call to discuss Viacom’s latest-quarter earnings, which were strong.

He implied it’s possible there could have been some measurement error since the set-top box data doesn’t seem to match up with Nielsen’s figures.

“The set-top box data is not showing the data that shows the declines that Nielson is showing,” he said. But he noted that the numbers have improved over the past several days. Dauman called the situation “anomalous” and “a short-term phenomenon.”

But he said it came at a particularly vexing time in early fall when toy companies are looking to advertise for the holidays. “We have to make it up to them and it’s not something you can recapture,” he said.

Nick’s woes plus a softening of volume in the scatter market could make it hard for the company to reach the double-digit growth in advertising revenue that it had aspired to in the current quarter, “but it’s hard to tell where we will fall exactly,” Dauman said. He noted that Viacom had been able to maintain healthy margins, even grow them, throughout the recent recession.