Nickelodeon touts the power of franchises in kid-friendly upfront
Fitting for this pandemic era, Nickelodeon aimed to unite its young audience, children who in many cases are still learning virtually, and its all-grown-up partners, a.k.a. their adult parents who would normally lock the home office door for a Thursday afternoon TV industry presentation.
The result: “The Nickelodeon Virtual Upfront Show: Bring Your Kids,” a child-friendly event that encourages parents and kids to sit down together to enjoy Nickelodeon’s grand unveiling of its future plans.
Starting off as an ordinary Zoom call, a glitch soon turns the upfront into a cartoon journey led by an animated version of Nickelodeon actress Gabrielle Nevaeh Green and Lincoln Loud, the fictional lead of animated series “The Loud House.” Together, they go on a whimsical journey to Paramount+ Island, Slate Mountain and Franchise Hall, working their way through the network’s 2021 agenda. (The presentation doesn’t shy away from TV industry lingo, although it attempts to explain unfamiliar terms like platform ubiquity and purchase funnels in an easy-to-understand way.)
“We’ve all been at home on Zoom for a year now doing virtual presentations. This [idea] came out of, ‘God, we can’t do another Zoom call,’” says Nickelodeon President Brian Robbins. The idea to create this year’s fantastical animated voyage of an upfront was originally tossed out on a phone call, with full production and animation being completed in just six to eight weeks, he adds. “We wanted to put our own stamp on it and do something original.”
Nickelodeon will roll out its 2021-22 slate across a mix of both linear TV and streaming services, chiefly ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ and Pluto TV. Nick’s increasing emphasis on ad-supported video on demand and ad-free streaming platforms as a complement to linear, which is still a major top-of-funnel player in the kids and family demo, reflects audiences’ interest in watching wherever they are.
“Linear TV for Nickelodeon is still our biggest reach vehicle and one of our most important vehicles. It’s very important that we deliver great content there and a great experience there,” Robbins says, noting the “majority” of the network’s new premieres are still on TV.
But in an effort to provide platform and brand ubiquity, Nickelodeon is committing over 7,000 episodes of its shows to its newly launched Paramount+, as well as offering some older library content to unaffiliated SVOD services like Netflix and Hulu. The network has also launched five new YouTube channels recently, which collectively recorded a 75% uptick in traffic on that site year-over-year.
”Pluto Kids and Paramount+ both offer vast distribution opportunities for prospective advertisers,"Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer, ViacomCBS, says in a message to clients, noting marketers’ demand for shows like iCarly that lend themselves to organic brand integrations.
Nickelodeon’s 2021-22 slate leans heavily into animation. The network also has some big-name revivals in the works that early Nickelodeon fans, many of whom are now adults with kids of their own, are sure to recognize.
Iconic animated series “Rugrats” is due to a return as a “re-imagining” of the beloved ‘90s show with some of the original voice actors, coming to Paramount+ this spring and to TV at a to-be-determined date later in 2021. Meanwhile, “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which first aired in 1999 and is currently in its 13th season, is getting two spinoffs: “The Patrick Star Show,” featuring SpongeBob’s pink starfish pal, which will debut on Nick in July; and “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years,” a 3D animated series streaming on Paramount+ now and coming to TV this fall, which serves as a prequel to the original show.
“We now have a whole generation of parents who grew up watching our shows,” says Robbins, who adds that all-grown-up fans of the 39-year-old network enjoy introducing their kids to the programs they grew up with as well as new Nick content.
“We also know that there’s more co-viewing now than ever before,” he adds—an aspect of the pandemic that is evident in Nickelodeon’s kid-friendly upfront. “That screen in the living room has become the screen.”
On the live-action side of things, hit sitcom iCarly is slated for a revival with its main characters “navigating our 20s and making videos in a world where every seven-year-old is a TikTok star,” says lead actress Miranda Cosgrove, who makes a cameo in the upfront presentation. That series will premiere this summer on Paramount+.
Also on the live docket: puppet-based TV show “The Barbarian and the Troll,” premiering on Nickelodeon in early April; “Warped!” a buddy comedy from the creators of “Good Burger” that’s coming to Nick this fall; and “The J Team,” a feature-length film starring JoJo Siwa set to debut sometime this year.