In fact, as some broadcast networks pull back from children's programing, the kids' upfront market is selling briskly for cable and Fox TV.
Kids' upfront "seems to have taken on a life of its own," says Margaret Loesch, chairman-CEO of Fox Kids Networks Worldwide. "We are getting a lot of pressure from some advertisers. I think it's just the fury for rating points. They are afraid they'll be left out. We sell out very quickly."
"TV is still by far the No. 1 way to reach kids," says Julie Halpin, general manager of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising's Kid Connection.
EXPANSION, NOT REPLACEMENT
Ms. Halpin argues that print vehicles, radio networks and the Internet expand the ways to reach kids-they are not a replacement for TV.
The erosion of kids' TV viewership is occuring primarily at ABC, CBS, NBC, plus syndicated TV fare.
"Of all the networks we are in best shape. We have not experienced a decline on Saturday morning-we've seen growth," says Ms. Loesch.
Kids continue to watch about 20 hours of television a week-and that figure hasn't changed significantly since 1988, says Selina Guber, president, Children's Market Research.
When asked what they usually watch: 65% mentioned cable TV's Nickelodeon; 35% said Fox; 31% said Turner Broadcasting's cable Cartoon Network; and 25% said Disney Channel.
NETS WITH POOR NUMBERS
Only 7% of the children said they watched NBC, 4% said ABC, 3% said CBS, 3% said Discovery Channel and 17% mentioned other channels, according to the researcher.
Data like this make it easy to understand why some networks are shying away from Saturday morning children's programming. Karl Kuechenmeister, VP-Turner Kids, says CBS-with ratings down 50%-has been chased out of the business.
However, there are still disturbing signs for those coming out on top.
Bob Sieber, VP-audience development for Turner Networks, says children's viewership overall is down 5% from a year ago in cable and non-cable homes. Saturday viewership is down 2% to 3%.
"We are in a business where we have seen stability for so long, any kind of decline sends tremors," says Mr. Sieber.
NICK, CARTOON NET GAIN
That's not holding back the success of Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. According to Mr. Sieber, Cartoon Network, now seen in 40 million homes, has twice the presence it had 18 months ago.
"In 1996, cable captured 82% of all viewing to children's programing that carries advertising. The three [original] broadcast networks combined had 4% and Fox had 11%," adds Mr. Sieber.
On the other hand, the Turner executive notes: "A little over 60% of all viewing by children is to programming that is not designed for them.
"If you look at our business, you see we don't have to take viewing away from existing programming. We develop larger audiences by capturing kids who are watching programs not designed for them," says Mr. Sieber.
GIVE `EM WHAT THEY WANT
Industry experts agree if advertisers want to reach kids through television, they need to get the "Nick Knack"-know kids inside out and upside down, and then give 'em what they want with sugar on top.
"Kids are out there and watching TV as part of the dominant part of their entertainment lifestyle. They are managers of the remote, and networks have been taking it on the chin," says Paul Kurnit, president of Griffin Bacal, New York, an agency that specializes in products for children.
COVERS MULTIPLE DAYPARTS
Children turn to cable, particularly Nickelodeon, because they know that they can find an appropriate program anytime of day, any day of the week, says Mr. Kurnit.
Susan Frank, exec VP-marketing and promotions for Fox Kids, says Fox definitely wants a bigger share of the kids marketing pie.
"We are only on the air 19 hours a week, compared with Nickelodeon, but we want kids to be able to take their on-air experience with them," Ms. Frank says, and points to Kids Countdown radio, Totally Fox magazine, an Internet site and a variety of Fox merchandise as tools to keep kids focused on Fox.
To support the lifestyle focus, Fox kicked off a new brand identity campaign last month themed, "Fox Kids rocks kids." The effort is designed to tie all the media together with a uniform logo and music.
Still, Jack Irving, media director at Kid Connection, insists the industry needs to address the quality of children's programming-and stop taking toy-driven shows.
"In the extreme, advertisers and agencies can take things into their own hands and create programming," says Mr. Irving.
"It's not only important to be in the right place, but it's important to be there the right way. It's all about being smarter and understanding your target as deeply and intimately as possible," says Ms. Halpin.