Kids TV market sees unexpected 4th quarter jump

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While the prime-time TV marketplace has been stung by weaker pricing since midsummer, there is one TV segment that has quietly and surprisingly evolved into a healthy market: kids TV programming.

The Cartoon Network, Disney Kids Network, Fox Family Channel, Fox Kids Network and the WB all have seen new money come into the fourth quarter. Some have posted double-digit price increases over the April upfront, when many networks suffered weak pricing deals due to slow demand.

Many kids programming networks are virtually sold out for the crucial holiday season, in particular for what is known as the "hard eight," the eight weeks leading up to Christmas. "For fourth quarter, we are definitely sold out," said Barbara Bekkedahl, exec VP-advertising sales for Fox Family Worldwide.


Fresh funds came from home video, toy advertisers, snack-food brands and movie companies, executives said. "We didn't really see some of this [business] coming in," said Karl Kuechenmeister, senior VP-ad sales for Turner Kids Television, which sells the Cartoon Network.

The WB and ABC are getting some double-digit cost-per-thousand increases over upfront pricing. "We are selling well into double digits over the upfront," said Dan Barnathan, senior VP of ABC Television/Disney Kids Network, who heads up ad sales for cable network Toon Disney as well as Disney One Saturday Morning (on ABC) and Disney One Too (on UPN). Mr. Barnathan added that inventory is virtually sold out in key areas.

"The economy is still really strong," said Jed Petrick, exec VP-media sales for the WB. "You have a lot more kids, and parents are spending. [The WB] really has had an active scatter market since February."


Media executives, however, caution this activity should be viewed in relation to the overall marketplace. "There is a little bit more money here," said Tim Spengler, exec VP-national broadcast for Initiative Media Worldwide, Los Angeles. "But more importantly, there was money there in the [kids] upfront that stuck, as opposed to prime time, where people made deals and then cut back."

In April, the $800 million kids upfront advertising market was a lackluster affair for media sellers, yielding few if any price increases. Still, some networks with improving ratings, such as the WB and the Cartoon Network, received better pricing -- 2% to 3% price increases -- while the overall marketplace was flat or down.

Because pricing was weak and demand lackluster during the upfront, many small toy advertisers decided to sit out the upfront and buy for the fourth quarter scatter period, for which deals were made in late July or early August. That caused a tightening of inventory.

Fourth-quarter advertising is a key indicator of how the kids TV marketplace is performing, since a majority of media dollars, especially from toy companies, are placed in this period. Traditionally, snack-food and fast-food advertisers tend to avoid the high-price holiday season and buy time in earlier, cheaper quarters.

The uptick in kids' spending, however, is not widespread. Some networks are only getting low single-digit increases, while some local TV stations still have plenty of inventory to sell in the key weeks leading up to Christmas.

"TV stations are telling me they are pretty wide open for the hard eight," said Allen Banks, exec VP-director of media, Saatchi & Saatchi North America, New York.

This has become all too commonplace for stations over the last several years, as many kids advertisers move more money to broadcast and cable networks from placing ads on individual TV stations.

Fox Kids Network has also secured a fourth-quarter, cross-media deal with Codemasters USA, a computer and videogame company, across its Fox Kids Network and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Sunny Delight, in addition to running spots on Fox Kids Network, has also struck a branded-area content deal on

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