LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Nickelodeon went Hollywood today by holding its annual upfront pitch in Los Angeles for the first time -- paying tribute not only to many of its recent production partners but also to one of the kids network's increasingly important advertising categories: movies.
Movie studios have replaced food marketers as the Viacom network's second-largest marketing category after toy marketers, said Jim Perry, Nickelodeon's exec VP-360 brand sales.
"Hollywood had another great year in 2009, and I think we'll continue to see that this year with three new DreamWorks movies, a new Nick movie this summer [Paramount's 'The Last Airbender'], a new 'Harry Potter' and some releases from Fox," Mr. Perry said.
Despite some cutbacks, food is expected to show some rebound this year as companies such as General Mills, Kellogg and Kraft continue to reformulate existing products and launch new foods that meet FCC marketing guidelines. Pepsi, for example, recently introduced new beverages free of high-fructose corn syrup, and Kellogg's Pop Tarts are expected to make its first media buys in three years to promote its new, healthier ingredients.
Toys, Nickelodeon's top-spending category, posted some sales growth in fourth quarter after a difficult 2009, and carried some of that optimism into the first quarter with increased year-over-year ad spending, Mr. Perry said.
Nickelodeon has been increasingly able to position itself as an exclusive marketing partner to some of its clients, receiving 100% of some brands' budgets during key time periods, according to Nickelodeon executives. Spin Master, a toy company that makes Liv dolls and Bakugan trading cards, made Nickelodeon its exclusive media partner for the period leading up to Easter and the fourth-quarter holiday season this year.
Nickelodeon, the longtime ratings leader in ad-supported kids cable networks, accounts for the lion's share of marketing dollars spent on kids cable. Last year it saw ad revenue fall 10% but still booked nearly three times the measured ad dollars spent on Cartoon Network and Disney XD combined, according to Kantar Media. Rival Disney Channel does not accept traditional advertising, only selling a half-dozen on-air sponsorship packages each year.
Disney delivered several major successes in 2009, however, with its "Wizards of Waverly Place" series and movie franchise, its Jonas Brothers series and the Demi Lovato vehicle "Sonny With a Chance," putting pressure on Nickelodeon to keep investing in its own programming.
At Nickelodeon's upfront event today, it announced three new TV movies ("Fred: The Movie," "Boy Who Cried Werewolf," starring Brooke Shields, and "Best Player," starring "iCarly" actors Jerry Trainor and Jennette McCurdy) plus the addition of "My Wife and Kids" to its Nick at Nite lineup, which will move up to 8 p.m. this fall to reach an older audience earlier in the day.
Such teen-oriented, adult-friendly programming moves are part of Nickelodeon's bid to broaden its audience beyond the preschoolers, kids and early tweens that make up its core business. "We're still kids first, but not kids-only," Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami told the crowd. "We want to expand our audience and what we mean to them."
"We have an opportunity to reach the first generation of Nickelodeon viewers who are now parents," Mr. Perry added.
Part of that includes older-skewing programming and talent such as "Glenn Martin, D.D.S.," a Michael Eisner-produced series featuring voice work from Kevin Nealon and Catherine O'Hara, the latter of whom appeared at the upfront. "Fanboy & Chum Chum," featuring voice work from "Transformers" star Josh Duhamel, has already carved out a niche as one of Nickelodeon's top-rated new animated series following failed star-vehicles such as Amy Poehler's "The Mighty B."