Published on .

May 11, 2001

By Wayne Friedman

LOS ANGELES ( -- Those predicting the demise of the upfront need look no further than the $850 million children's TV marketplace. For the past two years, it has been moving slowly,

but this year, it's downright glacial, with marketers casually approaching deals on a piecemeal basis.

"It's like a regular sales market," said Gary Montanus, senior vice president of advertising for Disney Kids Network. "You go in discussing people's needs and problems. It's pretty interesting. It's like old-time TV."

Said another media executive: "There is just no marketplace."

Media buyers in control
Advertising estimates are that total national TV kids' ad dollars could drop perhaps as much as 10% in this year's upfront from the prior year. Media buyers are firmly in control, with broadcast and cable networks mostly posting single digit cost-per-thousand decreases vs. last year's pricing, according to buyers. Some upstart cable networks, such as Cartoon Network, have been eking out flat or slight gains in some -- but certainly not all -- deals.

"Why pay an increase this year?" said Larry Blasius, senior vice president of national broadcast for True North Communications' TN Media, New York.

Viacom's Nickelodeon has sold about 50% of its upfront inventory, mostly through previous multiyear deals (see "Slow Start to Children's TV upfront Market"), and about 50% of its inventory in Nick Jr., the Saturday morning programming block on sibling network CBS. After debuting last year, under an initial programming model on CBS that didn't include advertising, Nick Jr. will begin airing commercials this season.

Deal makers
The Cartoon Network has nearly half-sold its inventory as well. According to executives, Bcom3 Group's Starcom Worldwide, Chicago, has completed all of its kids' upfront deals, including buys on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Fox Kids Network and Kids WB. Zenith Media, jointly owned by Cordiant Communications Group and Publicis Groupe, inked a deal for General Mills and WPP Group's MindShare bought for Mattel, both with Cartoon Network.

Other agencies doing deals include Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York; Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media North America, Los Angeles; and Summit Media Group, New York.

One different sales strategy, noted in published reports, is that of MediaVest Worldwide, New York, the Starcom MediaVest Group media division that represents Philip Morris Cos.' Kraft Foods and Diageo's Burger King Corp. MediaVest is planning to do both its kids' upfront business and its adult programming deals at the same time; typically, these transactions are done separately.

"If there are synergies and if they can combine the buys, it's probably a good thing," said Richard Taylor, vice president of marketing in the U.S. for Burger King. "If you are dealing with providers who have kids and adults, it just seems like a more efficient model. But only if it works."

This week, the broadcast networks do their formal presentations of next year's adult programming schedules. Upfront advertising talks and deals typically begin after the last presentation.

Nontraditional advertisers
With the market slow, Nickelodeon, and perhaps other networks, will probably pursue deals outside the traditional children's TV advertisers list, according to media executives. Nickelodeon has already done special multiyear deals with nontraditional kids' advertisers such as Ford Motor Co., Gateway and Embassy Suites.

So far this year, the national children's TV advertising market is breaking down this way, according to ad agency buyer estimates: Nickelodeon had done about $300 million; Cartoon Network pulled in $125 million; Kids WB grabbed $200 million; Fox Kids Network handles $130 million; and ABC takes in about $95 million.

Network and cable CPMs on the broad children's demographic, age 2 to 11, look like this: Kids WB is at the top, grabbing a $24 CPM; ABC books about $19; Nickelodeon does about $16 (and inks deals at a higher rate for its prime-time programming); Fox ranges between an $18 and a $22; CBS's Nick Jr. is now posting a $12 number and Cartoon Network is earning a $7 to $8 figure.

Staff writer David Goetzl contributed to this report

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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