Kids ratings slump raises holiday fears in toyland

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Some toy industry analysts fear the decline in ratings of kids' programs on syndicated TV and Saturday morning network cartoons could hurt toy sales this holiday season.

Fretting that computers, online gaming, videogames and home video are taking kids away from TV advertising during the crucial selling period, toy industry insiders say the situation is volatile.


"This could turn into a real problem for toy companies with a heavy reliance on toys advertised or based on network or syndicated TV shows that aren't getting attention from kids this year," said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison.

Toy marketers are already responding to the ratings shifts by increasing their advertising on cable TV, prime-time programming and in a number of fast-growing new kids' print vehicles, said Debbie Solomon, senior partner-media research at J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago.

Some media executives say fears of kids getting less exposure to broadcast TV advertising are overblown.

"Kids are watching less Saturday morning TV, but they're watching more cable TV overall and at all hours," said Steve Sternberg, senior partner of media resources for BJK&E Media Group, New York.


Ratings of kids Saturday morning network TV have fallen an average of 36% this year from last year, and kids syndicated TV ratings have fallen between 5% and 10% from last year, says a recent study by BJK&E Media Group.

Ratings of kids cable programs have increased over 100% this year, with Nickelodeon the big winner. Its No. 1 "Goosebumps" series has spawned a merchandising empire.

Cartoon Network, the Family Channel, USA Network and TBS are also taking kids away from network and syndicated programs.

Toy marketers and retailers say there has been no apparent dropoff yet in toy sales.

"Every year the holiday selling season gets later, and it's easy to get into a panic but there's no reason to believe TV ratings shifts will have any effect on toy sales or profits this year," said Marc Rosenberg, director of public relations and promotions for Tiger Electronics, the No. 3 toy advertiser, which relies heavily on syndicated and spot TV.

No. 1 toy retailer Toys "R" Us insists that TV advertising has as much impact as ever, despite the autumn ratings declines.


"Kids watch TV so closely that we can see precise results every time an item is advertised on TV," said Ernie Speranza, senior VP-marketing for Toys "R" Us. "We're not concerned about kids TV viewing patterns hurting toy sales."

However, Toys "R" Us recently went back to an older, more successful TV advertising theme: "I'm a Toys `R' Us Kid," in a campaign from Wells Rich Greene BDDP, New York. WRG was recently named creative agency of record for the company's $40 million account.

"Everything in kid' TV is cyclical, and this year there's nothing very hot in syndicated TV or network TV for kids to create that excitement," Mr. Sternberg said.


Nevertheless, specialists in kid-targeted advertising concede it's getting increasingly difficult to reach kids in advertising.

"It's tougher than ever because you have more and more products and entertainment vehicles competing for kids' time and share of mind," said Paul Kurnit, President of Griffen Bacal, New York. The shop handles Hasbro and its Milton Bradley games division, along with Topps and Parigi toy brands.

Despite media observers' reassurances that kids are watching as much TV as ever, one analyst who refused to be quoted observed: "If you didn't think the ratings decline in kids' network and syndicated TV programming would affect toy sales, then one would have to conclude you didn't believe in the effectiveness of advertising."

Contributing: Laura Petrecca.

Copyright December 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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