Not bad for a network whose top-rated site, nick.com, still trails the ad-free Disney group of sites in unique visitors by more than half on a monthly basis, according to ComScore Media Metrix.
"We have a lot of different business on the digital front, whether it's Nick or Neopets or Addicting Games or Shockwave," said Jim Perry, exec VP-ad sales for Nickelodeon and MTV Networks' Kids and Family Group. Mr. Perry's group has five kid-targeted web properties that together reach 3 million or more unique visitors a month, thus justifying the boom in ad spend.
Up next: an expansion of vertical ad network ParentsConnect, which recently was added to its Babunga family. "We really have some opportunities in going after the mom and dad and overall family," Mr. Perry said. "We know marketers are out there looking to reach families for a variety of categories, like travel, auto and package goods, and it will be a big focus of ours going forward."
Gaming is key
The ParentsConnect expansion is one of many recent acquisitions and add-ons TV networks have made in the past year to increase their upfront offerings. Cartoon Network's sites, which reach an average of 6.8 million monthly unique visitors, are major gaming destinations for its core audience of boys 6 to 11 but had been bought as add-ons in their first eight years.
John O'Hara, the kiddie cabler's senior VP-ad sales, considered last year's upfront a "milestone" in terms of significant online dollars shifting to upfront buys from scatter. "We think advertisers came around in a bigger way to commit money to our digital properties," he said. "The result of that is the recognition that kids are such strong consumers online and spend so much time online."
David Tepper, who buys kids' media for Hasbro at WPP Group's MediaCom, said Cartoon has been effective in threading multiplatform deals together for his clients. Yet the monetization of some of the gaming activity remains tricky. "You can't have a Doritos try be part of a game; it's against FCC regulations," Mr. Tepper said. FCC guidelines prevent marketers from integrating their products into children's programming without giving full disclosure.
Digital spending so far has tended to be proportional to the network's ratings strength. Nick, which has seen upticks in ratings in its flagship events such as the Kids Choice Awards as well as breakout hits such as "The Naked Brothers Band" and "iCarly," is in a good position to command a larger share of digital ad spend while Cartoon will have to create a bit more demand.