Nick kids '01: Different tastes, but more clout

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Kid-oriented Nickelodeon became an adult in 2000. The Viacom-owned cable network, now 21 years old, has for the last five years been the top Nielsen-rated basic cable network for kids and adults, reaching more than 1 million households. The franchise also includes a Web site [], magazine, feature films, and programming partnerships with CBS for Nick Jr., Children's Television Workshop for Noggin and Spanish-language network Telemundo. Exec VP-General Manager Cyma Zarghami discussed with Special Reports Managing Editor Dan Lippe how Nick approaches the kids market, including tweens, as well as the challenges facing a network whose first generation of viewers is now entering parenthood and whose own children will be potential customers for Nickelodeon and its advertisers.

Advertising Age: How big a share of your overall market is the tween market? To what extent is your programming aimed at tweens?

Ms. Zarghami: We define tweens as 9-to-14-year-olds. They make up about 19% to 20% of our audience. Two-to-5-year-olds make up 30%; 6-to-11-year-olds make up 30%; and adults make up the rest. Historically, we believe Nickelo-deon has been for all kids; we have tried to create a balance and mix that will appeal to everybody.

What we do have is a lot of live-action shows we believe attract the older [or tween] set. I think tweens are more attracted to live-action stuff because the characters are more realistic and focus on the older set.

AA: Do you approach the kids market by age group?

Ms. Zarghami: Kids are divided more by taste and psychographic profile than by age. ... A lot has happened in 20 years in the world of kids-they are a lot more empowered and more media savvy and more sophisticated, and the dynamic of the family has changed. ...

I think that kids and tweens alike have tremendous influence over purchasing power at home, and lots of that is tied to the changing dynamic of the family. Kids, for example, spend a lot more time at the store with their parents than in the past-it's considered quality time. The kids are media savvy and brand conscious. When their parents go to buy apple juice, for example, the kids could influence them to buy the brand with Rugrats on it. [Mott's has a partnership with "Rugrats."]

AA: Is today's tween markedly different from tweens a decade ago?

Ms. Zarghami: The biggest difference is kids are much more aware of their developmental cycle, starting with ones old enough to articulate. Eight-year-olds are very conscious of leaving the heart of kid-dom and entering the preteen life cycle, and preteens are very conscious of gaining teen-age status and don't want to be treated as kids anymore. They're always conscious of their place. They're aspirational about what they're about to become. ...

When you get to the tweens set, the best way to describe them is if you consider the fact that kids are appearing to be older younger. ... It's a behavioral thing, not an emotional thing-while kids appear to be brand savvy, they're still emotionally the kids they were 20 years ago.

AA: What do you feel are your current top tween offerings?

Ms. Zarghami: Programs starring tweens and addressing tween concerns started with "Clarissa Explains It All" in 1991, and today include "Taina," "Kaitlin's Way" and "As Told by Ginger."

AA: How do you transition tweens to Nick products that are aimed at an older crowd, such as Nick at Nite?

Ms. Zarghami: Nick at Nite was conceived for parents of Nickel-odeon viewers. If I could have everything I ever wanted in my career it would be that people would stick around [with Nickelodeon] from age 2 to 49, but there is a period when they leave [and return as young adults], and we don't try to transition them after 12 to 14. ...

We are entering the first generation of Nickelodeon viewers who are now becoming parents, and I think the next 10 years will be really interesting for us to see what we have built in trust about what we're doing, and as long as kids are watching Nickelodeon, there is a trust factor.

AA: What's it like to be the top player in an increasingly tough ad market?

Ms. Zarghami: It's no mystery there's been a lot of consolidation [among advertisers] including Kraft and Nabisco and in the toy business. I think one of the things we've done as marketing leaders is to break new categories. We know that kids are helping make choices about the cars their families drive and vacation destinations. We have relationships with Gateway and Ford and Embassy Suites.

AA: Have you found the kids segment to be softening along with other TV venues?

Ms. Zarghami: I think the economy is having an effect on a lot of industries and TV in particular. But I don't believe the kids pie is shrinking overall.

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