Many kids love to watch TV, but have little desire to learn the intricacies of the business behind it. Nickelodeon aims to change that dynamic.
The ViacomCBS kids-media giant will host a showcase on March 18 at 4 p.m., all part of the advertising-sales session known as TV’s “upfront” market. The presentation aims to lure many of the advertising and media-buying executives Nickelodeon needs to fuel its operations. But it’s also something children can also enjoy.
“Everyone has been living in a virtual world for a year, so we wanted to do something different,” explains Brian Robbins, Nickelodeon’s president, to Variety in an interview. “We thought, ‘Why not do an upfront through the eyes of the audience, as opposed to the eyes of the partners?’ Since families are home together, and a lot of our partners have children, let’s make something that can be a co-viewing event.”
Nickelodeon’s confab will feature both animation and live-action segments, Robbins says. A wide array of stars and characters from the company’s programs will explain to both kids and advertisers how the network plans to expand its reach and launch more original animation productions than at any other time in its four-decade-plus history The presentation will include a screening room with full episodes of Nickelodeon series as well as sneak peeks from new programs. It will also feature sweepstakes, photo ops and interactive meet-and-greets with Nickelodeon animators, artists, actors and characters.
The show will start out like a typical Zoom meeting, Robbins says, then “veer off into this Nickelodeon wonderland, and this virtual world.” The program is just half an hour — the length of a typical Nickelodeon episode of “Dora the Explorer” or “Danger Force,” says Robbins, but “without the commercials.” He likens the concept to “a little bit of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ meets “The Wizard of Oz’.”
Nickelodeon typically vies with WarnerMedia’s Cartoon Network and Disney’s suite of kids-focused cable properties as part of the “kids’ upfront,” during which the media companies hope to sell around $800 million in advance advertising commitments. In 2021, however, there’s significantly more at stake.
ViacomCBS is about to launch Paramount Plus, a streaming-video service built out of CBS All Access. WarnerMedia is expected to debut an ad-supported version of its HBO Max by June of this year, and has unveiled a new push to gather pre-school audiences and female viewers. And Disney is putting significantly more resources into its streaming outlets, which include Disney Plus and Hulu. Kids’ programming is seen by many executives as a “must-have” offering for which parents will maintain a subscription over several months, rather than opening and canceling depending on content options.
This year’s upfront takes place as the move towards streaming video is spurring new declines in traditional linear viewership. Nickelodeon saw its average audience between 6 and 11 fall by 36% in 2020, according to figures from Nielsen, while Cartoon Network’s viewership in that category was off by 37% and Disney Channel’s tumbled 34%. Nickelodeon’s flagship network remained the most watched by that pivotal young-viewer category, according to Nielsen, snaring an average audience of 145,000 of kids between 6 and 11, compared with 124,000 for Disney Channel and 64,000 for Cartoon Network.
With some of those trends in mind, TV companies are no longer just talking to advertisers about traditional TV. The Nickelodeon show will explain Nickelodeon’s contribution to Paramount Plus, says Robbins, and “how important kids’ content is to streaming.” Nickelodeon has already announced that Paramount Plus will feature a revival of the popular series “iCarly,” and serve as the home of “Kamp Koral,” a spin off of the popular “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
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