Big Three Kids Cable Networks Monopolizing Ad Dollars
More digital growth on the way; broadcast blocks still take backseat
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/20/2012 1:47:05 PM
Media buyers say as much as 90%-95% of their clients' kids budgets currently go to the kids cable networks, with the remainder going to the broadcast networks' Saturday-morning children's blocks.
"The dedicated kids networks are dominating the kids marketplace, and the broadcast Saturday-morning blocks are not much of a player anymore," says one kids network sales executive who did not want to speak for attribution.
However, the sales exec's view is shared by kids media buyers. "Kids programming on broadcast is only a three- or four-hour block a week; the networks don't give a lot of promotion, and the [shows] are not that highly rated," says Jason Maltby, director of national broadcast at Mindshare. "The days when PokÃ©mon did a 10 rating among kids 2-11 are long gone."
Darcy Bowe, associate media director at Starcom, agrees. "Saturday morning has become a small niche area, just one day a week. For many clients, it has become almost an afterthought," Bowe says. "Broadcast is no longer a mass reach for kids, and pricing can also be an issue. It's hard for them to compete with the kids cable networks."
Still, the broadcast network Saturday-morning kids blocks will get that 5-10% of kids ad spending overall, because they are reaching the 15% of homes nationwide that still are not accessible by cable.
The broadcast networks, however, are no longer involved with the blocks, having syndicated them out. ABC's Saturday-morning block targets teens with programming from Litton Entertainment and is branded Litton's Weekend Adventure. The CBS block still targets younger kids with programming from DIC Entertainment and is called Cookie Jar. The CW block is provided by Saban Brands and is called Vortexx. Fox lets its affiliates program the block locally. NBC Kids is a Saturday-morning block that features programming from PBS kids channel Sprout; NBCUniversal owns a small interest in the network.
But most of the attention from kids advertisers is focused on the kids cable Big Three.
"Other than Radio Disney and a few print products, there's no way to reach large amounts of kids except through the kids cable networks and their websites," Maltby says.
Even with recent ratings declines of as much as 25%, Nickelodeon still brought home significant ad dollars in the kids upfront this year because there are few alternatives to reach kids 24/7. The network will even expand its demographic reach next month with a nighttime Nick Mom block.
The kids networks are also broadening their digital platforms, offering marketing partnerships beyond commercials on an even broader basis than the general audience entertainment networks.
John O'Hara, executive VP of ad sales and marketing at Cartoon Network, says 95% of the channel's fourth-quarter deals have a digital component. "The dollar investment on the TV side is still where a majority of the spending is, but digital continues to grow," O'Hara says.
Jim Perry, head of sales at Nickelodeon Group, says, "In the past, digital has been more of a scatter buy. But this year, more advertisers made digital buys in the upfront. TV is still far and away the primary component of every kids advertisers' media mix, but the digital platform is growing."
While mobile advertising is still a small portion of overall kids ad spending, Perry says, "as content on mobile kids devices continues to grow and become more robust, the dollars will start to increase."
Neither Disney Channel nor the new Disney Junior accept traditional advertising, so they are more sponsorship- heavy than their competitors. They also have the advantage of being affiliated with Radio Disney, which has stations in 31 markets around the country. The radio piece means Disney can sell cross-platform packages across TV, digital and radio.
Rita Ferro, executive VP, Disney Media Sales & Marketing, says "marketers don't just buy on-air TV sponsorships, they extend their sponsorships across our radio stations and online site and they can also do licensing deals with our on-air talent. It's more of a 360-degree experience."
Starcom's Bowe says merging the Radio Disney and Disney TV sales units under one roof a few years back was a smart move. "Having all sales under one umbrella makes it so much easier for clients to buy advertising and cross-platform campaigns," she says. "And although Disney doesn't offer commercials, it built out big packages with events using their talent. Disney has a bigger machine to do these live events in local markets where their radio stations and personnel are located."
"We can create a customized event at a retail location and promote it on the radio station," says Ferro. "The local component of bringing talent out where kids can see them in person is very important."
While traditional TV is where the bulk of the dollars are spent, marketers and their media buyers are very aware that kids consumption of media is changing rapidly. "Kids don't act like kids anymore," Maltby says. "Ten years ago, most kids played with toys until they were 10 or 11. Now, most kids are playing with handheld electronic devices when they are 3, 4 or 5 years old. This changes how we need to reach kids. But while that is happening, we still realize that if you run the majority of your gross ratings points on TV, you will still reach most kids."
One area of linear TV that is becoming more popular for reaching kids is video on demand. Bowe says, "Adults watch VOD to catch up on an episode they missed. Kids watch VOD as part of their regular daily viewing."
What makes VOD particularly enticing to kids marketers is that the kids networks usually sell each episode to one advertiser and guarantee a certain number of views, Bowe says.
SPENDING REMAINS FLAT
Overall ad spending in the kids TV marketplace has been flat over the past few years and there are a number of reasons for that. Government regulations on sugar content of food and drinks marketed on kids networks over the past several years have caused a lot of advertisers to drop out. Some of them have reformulated their products and come back, and some of the lost spending has been picked up by new "healthier" foods brands.
"You see very few cookie ads directed at kids on TV," Starcom's Bowe says. "Even some cereals that are perceived to be healthy have too much sodium. Some snacks companies have moved their ad dollars out of kids programming and are now marketing to adults."
The video games category, which was once a big target of kids, has seen a decrease in spending on kids networks. "More of those dollars are being spent to reach the 18-24 market," Bowe says.
Maltby says video game marketing to kids has been hurt because more kids are now using their parents' smartphones and tablets to play games on. He says another contributing factor to the flat video games ad spend is that Microsoft XBox and Nintendo Wii have not come out with any new systems that would require a major purchasing of new games.
Cartoon Network's O'Hara says the food categories on his network are spending more this year, however, but "healthier snacks like yogurts and lunch meals have replaced the heavy sweets." Kids footwear also has seen a growth in ad spending on the network.
Cartoon Network sees its 20th anniversary this coming season with its official birthday celebration on Oct. 1. O'Hara says the network is marketing the occasion using the word "birthday" instead of "anniversary" because "it resonates better with kids."
The network has signed up Mattel and Kraft as partners for both linear TV and digital ads and sponsorships.
DRIVING NEW CATEGORY
One growing category that might be considered non-traditional for the kids marketplace is auto advertising. Not only are the commercials and sponsorships directed at the parents, but some of them are also directed at the kids. Many of these ads are for SUVs and minivans and tout inside-the-car features such as TV screens and other such options.
Nickelodeon's Perry has been working with auto advertisers to develop special creative messages targeting kids, involving elements in the cars as well as safe driving messages for older teens.
Perry says that generally speaking, some marketers have pulled ad dollars out of broadcast primetime looking to reach moms and dads and families on certain kids programming. He adds that Nick Mom, the new Nick Jr. 10 p.m.-to-midnight block that premieres Oct. 1 with four comedies, has sold an assortment of ad categories, including auto, movies, electronics, wireless and insurance, in addition to packaged goods and food. Perry says the network would not sell any alcohol ads in the late-night Mom block, even though the kids are tucked into bed.
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