Three-Way War Over Tweens
Nickelodeon, Cartoon and Disney Channel go after the Clearasil crowd
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/19/2004 8:00:00 PM
To young girls, Jamie-Lynn Spears is Britney's cool little sister. To Nickelodeon, she's a weapon.
The kids network is deploying the 13-year-old in an upcoming live-action show as part of its latest salvo in an ongoing war for control of the lucrative tween market. When the ratings dust settled this summer, Nick had bested its rivals for the demo—Cartoon Network and Disney Channel—but the margin is thin.
Splat!, Nick's new summer game-show strip, in which fans play along online, helped the network score an average 563,000 tween viewers a day between May 31 and Aug. 22, a 12% increase from the year before. Now Nick is spicing up its fall offerings with new live-action shows to attract 9- to 14-year-olds, who spend $39 billion a year, according to "The U.S. Tween Market," a report published by Packaged Facts.
For the fall, Nickelodeon is focusing on re-energizing TEENick, its 3-year-old block of Sunday-night shows with new live-action programming targeted at 11- and 12-year-olds. "This is really what we're hoping will be our destination for tweens," says Cyma Zarghami, president of the network. "This will be what they can call home."
Two weeks ago, TEENick premiered two live-action comedies: Unfabulous stars 13-year-old Emma Roberts, niece of Julia Roberts, as a quirky singer/songwriter who deals with life through music; Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide chronicles a boy's middle school trials. The block scored its highest ratings ever, averaging 1.2 million tween viewers for the night, up 58% over last year.
Early next year, Nick will beef up the block with two more live-action shows: Zoey 101, Spears' show about a coed boarding school, and a yet unnamed show about an all-girls soccer team executive-produced by Whoopi Goldberg.
Cartoon Network came in second to Nick for the summer with 403,000 tween viewers, inching ahead 2% from last year. The growth was fueled in part by a 14% jump in August viewership for Toonami, which was moved to Saturday night in April. The four-hour block is dominated by Japanese-style anime fare, distinguished by big-eyed characters and complex storylines. The Cartoon block scores particularly well with tween boys.
Several Toonami shows are still in production, and the network's eyeing other shows to premiere there, according to General Manager Jim Samples.
Disney Channel, which placed third with 363,000 tween viewers for the summer, trailed last year's numbers by 12%. Still, it logged solid ratings for live-action show Phil of the Future, which premiered in June and stars heartthrob Ricky Ullman. To help brighten his star wattage, Disney has made him one of the hosts for its seventh-annual Viewers' Choice New Year's Eve countdown. He and the cast will also appear in Halloween and Thanksgiving programming stunts.
Disney has even more tween stars waiting in the wings. Dylan and Cole Sprouse, the cutie 12-year-old twins of Big Daddy fame, will star in The Suite Life early next year. "I have high hopes and nothing but major expectations that these are the stars of tomorrow for the Disney Channel," says Vice President of Programming Scott Garner.
For programmers, tweens are a difficult demo to pin down because of their eccentric viewing habits, vacillating between live-action and animated fare and sampling both kid and adult shows. "They're very fluid, very finicky and constantly moving around," says Brad Adgate, a media buyer for Horizon.
None of the three cable networks claim tweens as their exclusive target audience; they all say they focus more broadly on kids 6-14, but each has a vested interest in drawing tween viewers and keeping them.
Nick's strategy includes eventually handing off tweens to its spinoff digital cable network, called The N. The channel recently started taking ads and currently runs in 40 million homes. Disney, known for promoting its talent, aims to spur tweens to watch its stars in original movies or to buy their CDs.
Both Nick and Disney claim to have the most original tween strategy. Each one maintains that it was the first to successfully tap the tween demo with live-action shows.
"Whenever anyone jumps into the market that you've had success in, it's very flattering," says Disney's Garner. Disney struck gold in 2001 with Lizzie McGuire, then followed up two years later with That's So Raven. Both scored big numbers and turned stars Hilary Duff and Raven, respectively, into bona fide tween queens.
Nick claims it beat Disney to live-action with '90s show Clarissa Explains It All.Moreover, the network, which turns 25 this year, maintains that Disney became focused on tweens only in the past 10 years. Says Nick's Zarghami, "They have a couple of great shows. What they don't have is the history and the consistency."
Jabs aside, only tweens can name a victor in this fight.
Says Garner, "It's a three-legged race out there: Nick and Cartoon and us. And at the end of the day, kids make the choices as to what they watch."
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