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Kids upfront is sorta flat

WB, Cartoon seen gaining, but Nick disputes talk of a dip; syndy rates rise 5%-8% 4/30/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

By most accounts, a flat kids upfront TV market unfolded last week, bringing between $750 million and $800 million in ad commitments for the 2000-01 season.

The syndication upfront also broke, with prices for the top-tier shows, such as Oprah Winfrey and Entertainment Tonight, commanding rate hikes estimated to be in the 15% to 18% range. Executives said the overall syndication market should be up between 5% and 8%, to about $2.5 billion.

While the kids market wasn't hot, numerous sources-both buyers and sellers-said WB and Cartoon increased their market share.

Many buyers and sellers contacted last week said they believed Nickelodeon lost some market share, because of declining ratings this season as well as because many multiyear deals with the network ended this season, freeing advertisers to spend elsewhere.

But John Popkowski, senior vice president sales, MTV Networks, said Nick's sales effort is a 52-week process that includes promotions, links to other parts of the company, such as the film-production unit, and a big focus on bringing in nontraditional kids advertisers.

Overall, he said, Nickelodeon's revenues were up in 1999 and will be up in 2000.

"Maybe WB did fine and God bless 'em, and maybe Cartoon did fine and God bless'em, but we did fine, too," he said. "We don't count on the kids upfront as much as we do on the 52-week conversations which dictate spending levels with us."

Driven by the success of Pokémon, The WB took in almost $100 million in advertising commitments, up 25% from last year's take. That comes on top of an exceptionally strong scatter market for The WB, which received double-digit increases over last year's upfront pricing.

Estimates are WB will take in $40 million in kids scatter money this year. WB sales executives weren't available by deadline.

"Disney, WB and Cartoon are the growth areas," said John Lazarus, senior vice president, national broadcast, TN Media. He predicted Nickelodeon would "definitely" lose some share in the upfront. "I think they've gone from something like 65% to 51% of the kids [rating points]. They are not what they were."

Grey Advertising's Jon Mandel agreed. "Nick didn't expect it to be huge year," he said. "I think they are probably down in total [upfront] dollars. But that's probably OK with them, given the way they sell."

Still, Nick has by far the single largest share of the kids business, with an upfront take estimated to be about $300 million, compared with some $325 million last year.

Disney put all of its TV, radio, online and print kids outlets under one marketing umbrella called the Disney Kids Network earlier this year. Sources say that, collectively, the assets will bring in between 10% and 20% more revenue than a year ago. The TV piece of that is roughly flat with last year.


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