Published on .

April 23, 2001

By Wayne Friedman

LOS ANGELES ( -- The weakly anticipated $800 million children's TV upfront season is off to such a stagnant start that media buyers

expect to be able to demand 1% to 5% decreases in rates this year.

Presentations from several children's programmers are currently under way. But Nickelodeon is ahead of the pack, thanks to deals struck last spring to sell a sizable percentage of its upfront inventory in two-year deals for this current season and next year (the 2001-2002 season), according to advertising executives. Nickelodeon executives would not comment.

Media executives have offered conflicting reports, saying Nickelodeon may have sold up to 75% of its inventory through these deals. Other agency executives believe that due to the weakness in the economy, the big-children's cable channel may have only sold about 15% to 20% of its inventory.

Buyers expect decreases
Most media buyers expect to get slight decreases from last year's cost-per-thousand rates from about half of the children's-TV programmers. The Cartoon Network and Fox Kids Network could command some increases, while Disney Kids Network will most likely witness a drop.

Children's TV buyers are just now listening to presentations offered by Kids WB, Fox Kids Network, ABC/Disney Kids Network, Cartoon Network and others. Executives believe some money from the big agencies should move soon -- to avoid conflict with the adult programming TV upfront in May.

With so much available inventory, however, some media buyers don't see the need for a children's upfront this year.

"You do deals as you need to," said Jon Mandel, co-managing director of Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York, a major media buyer for companies such as Hasbro.

Simple supply and demand?
Nickelodeon has, for the last number of years, inked a series of two-year deals with advertisers. But these deals were done when either the children's marketplace or the overall economy was strong. Now, some media buyers are questioning whether multiyear deals are valuable in this changing economy, where there is a glut of children's ratings points from a number of suppliers in the market.

"When supply is greater than demand, why do you want to lock yourself in?" asked Shelly Hirsch, CEO of Summit Media Group, New York, which represents a number of midsize toy companies and, for the moment, is sitting on the sidelines.

"Business is not wonderful out there," said another veteran media buyer. As evidence of the softness, the executive said, he just bought some underpriced second-quarter children's inventory.

Copyright April 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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