Orange Splat Aims to Earn Green Points

Road to the Upfront: Nickelodeon

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The Date: March 13, 2008
The Venue: Hammerstein Ballroom, New York
Key Execs: Judy McGrath, chairman-CEO, MTV Networks; Cyma Zarghami, president, Nickelodeon/MTV Networks Kids and Family Group; Jim Perry, exec VP-ad sales, Nickelodeon/MTV Networks Kids and Family Group; Jim Tricarico, senior VP-ad sales, Nickelodeon/MTV Networks Kids and Family Group
The Food: A carb-heavy selection of pastries and muffins to make sure everyone had enough energy for the morning presentation, with a bit of fruit to inject some vitamin C into the proceedings.
The Swag: As part of Nick's Big Green Help initiative, guests left with a recyclable tote bag (with a splat logo that read, "Orange you glad we went green?") containing a filtered-water bottle. The keepsake was in direct contrast to last year's less-than-eco-friendly swag, a portable iPod player that swallows batteries in a matter of hours (we're just sayin').
The Celebs: Amy Poehler, creator and star of the new animated series "The Mighty B"; Chris Meloni, star of Nick's first made-for-TV original movie, "The Gym Teacher"; MTV VJ Quddus, host of the new dance competition "Dance on Sunset"; Miranda Cosgrove, star of "iCarly"; and Natasha Bedingfield, who performed two songs on behalf of Nick's new partnership with Sony Music Entertainment
(L-R) Rob Stringer, chairman of Sony Music Label Group; Singer,Natasha Bedingfield; and Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon Kids and Family Group.
(L-R) Rob Stringer, chairman of Sony Music Label Group; Singer,Natasha Bedingfield; and Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon Kids and Family Group. Credit: Scott Gries/Nickelodeon
The Ratings Game: Nickelodeon is still the No. 1 cable network for children 2-11, as it has been for 13 consecutive years. Its closest ratings competitor, Disney Channel, only regularly beats it in prime-time, by which point Nick has switched to Nick at Nite programming for adults and families. Recent ratings victories for the network include the January "Zoey 101" special "Goodbye Zoey," which earned an 11.6 national rating among children 9-14. A Presidents Day episode of "The Fairly Oddparents" attracted even more viewers, garnering a 16.8 national rating.
Last Year's Take: Nickelodeon grossed a total of $992.1 million in ad revenue in 2007, across all its web brands and Nick at Nite, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
Buyer's Verdict: Chris Boothe, chief activation officer for Starcom, has partnered with the network on a variety of marketing initiatives, including last year's groundbreaking minute-by-minute deal for clients like Kellogg, Nintendo and Buena Vista. Of yesterday's colorful presentation, Mr. Boothe remarked, "They have a lot of new programming, the movie looks interesting and they're doing a lot with ad themes this year."

The cable upfront season kicked off with a splat this week when Nickelodeon became the first major network to host its presentation to advertisers at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom. Following a tradition of brightly colored celeb-packed upfronts, this year's event was no exception. MTV CEO Judy McGrath began by stating Nickelodeon's overall brand theme this year is to be virtually everywhere. That includes theme parks, retail, cruise ships and movie theaters through partnerships with Marriott, Royal Carribbean, Mall of America and DreamWorks Animation.

The orange-hued children's net is also eyeing a new color, green, via its Big Green Help initiative. Said Ms. McGrath, "Kids are twice as likely as their parents to believe they can personally make a difference. And with the Big Green Help, we're going to use every screen we've got."

Those screens have become quite profitable for the network. Sales chief Jim Perry told Ad Age last month that a third of the network's revenue last year came from digital, a major leap from the 10% it was getting just a few years ago and a larger share than even a broadcast network could claim. This has been due largely to each of Nickelodeon's five core brands having a corresponding digital component now.
(L-R) Actor Christopher Meloni; Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon Kids and Family Group; Actress,Amy Poehler; Chairman-CEO of MTV Networks Judy McGrath; and Jim Perr, exec VP of 360 Brand Sales Nickelodeon Kids & Family Group
(L-R) Actor Christopher Meloni; Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon Kids and Family Group; Actress,Amy Poehler; Chairman-CEO of MTV Networks Judy McGrath; and Jim Perr, exec VP of 360 Brand Sales Nickelodeon Kids & Family Group Credit: Scott Gries/Nickelodeon

In a post-upfront teleconference, Mr. Perry said, "This is the strongest kids' upfront marketplace in a couple years. Both buyers and sellers agreed it was an up market. We're seeing that in a lot of the pricing in the scatter market right now, and the scatter's been strong for kids." That said, Nick has been doing a lot of its key negotiations outside of the upfront marketplace these days. "We do a lot of our business 52 weeks a year, and many of our larger deals, whether it be integrated or consumer products and marketing. We've been doing these deals for quite some time, and we've got a good base laid in as we head into new upfront season."

On the programming front, Nick unveiled a trio of promising kids' shows, two of which seem to be aimed just as much toward the parents. The first, "The Mighty B," is an animated series created and voiced by "Saturday Night Live" star Amy Poehler. In the show, premiering April 26, she plays a "nine and three-quarters-year-old" Bee Scout who's "kind of intense and gets advice from her index finger," Ms. Poehler said. Then she slyly pleaded to the crowd, "So come, advertisers. Won't you share my delicious Dreamsicle with me?"

Also of interest to adults might be "Gym Teacher," Nick's first original live-action made-for-TV movie, starring Chris Meloni of "Law & Order: SVU" and directed by "Strangers With Candy" co-creator Paul Dinello. Of the movie, Mr. Meloni said, "I finally have something my kids can watch."

But one shouldn't discount the potential for "Dance on Sunset," the umpteenth dance-themed reality competition to emerge in the last month but the first to emerge with a children's focus. The show premieres March 29, right after this year's Kids Choice Awards.
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