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Upfront Notebook: Crown Media and Nickelodeon - Broadcasting & Cable

Upfront Notebook: Crown Media and Nickelodeon

Hallmark success with shows such as 'When Calls the Heart' leads to a new problem, while Nick puts woes in rear view mirror
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Crown Media's Hallmark Channel is crowing about the success of its move into original series — and it is turning to ad agencies for help to get viewers to watch the commercials that air during those programs.

Its second series, When Calls the Heart, registered the network's top-rated episode last Saturday.

Having a record-setting series is certainly a blessing for a network that's used to doing its biggest business during the Christmas season, when it runs a bounty of original holiday themed movies. But it also puts them squarely into the sights of that scourge of programmers everywhere, the dreaded DVR.

In addition to a rise in ratings, the network is seeing a 90% increase in DVR use when it airs original series. That means commercials are getting skipped and when commercials get skipped ad revenue gets lost.

During an upfront press briefing Thursday, Bill Abbott, CEO of Crown Media Family Networks and a long time ad salesman, said that Crown is trying to get in front of channel skipping by talking to media agencies about ways to add content to commercial breaks in order to keep viewers from hitting fast forward.

To be sure, other networks have looked for ways to prevent channel skipping. In sports and news, information tickers sometimes run at the bottom of the screen during commercial breaks to encourage viewers to continue to pay attention. But some advertisers are wary of sharing viewers' attention when they're paying a healthy CPM.

At the same time, some advertisers have tried to create ads that still create a brand impression even when a spot goes zipping by.

But the onus is on the network because clients buy ads based on the C3 rating, and that counts only ads that are seen — not those skipped.

Later that day, Nickelodeon had its upfront presentation and wanted to put its well-documented rating troubles behind it.

When she got up to address media buyers and clients, Nick president Cyma Zarghami said, "I can barely remember 2011 and 2012. Or I choose not to. As a team, we never look back."

During a phone call, Zarghami said the big plunge in ratings in 2011 was caused by a combination of Nick's own hits waning, aggressive new programs from competitors and a shift as post-millennial generation became the bulk of kid viewers.

In pursuit of new hits, Nick put Russell Hicks in charge and saw many of its long-time programming execs leave. The purge might be near an end, Zarghami said. "I think we're in better shape than we've ever been."

In addition to announcing new series and movies at its upfront, Nick announced a new awards show event, Kids' Choice Sports 2014, which will be executive produced and hosted by Michael Strahan. Strahan, whose apparently not busy enough with Live with Kelly and Michael and Fox NFL Sunday, said he is looking forward to getting big names in sports to participate in the event, some of whom he'd like to see slimed.

"Audiences and our business partners love live events," Zarghami said during the upfront. "We built buzz and the sheen of celebrities carries over to our brand."

In fact, Nick ad sales head Jim Perry said he was close to being able to announce a list of sponsors for the event. Nick's 27th annual Kids' Choice Awards drew 7 million viewers and sponsors including McDonald's, Capri Sun, Toyota, Kindle, Target, Bounty and General Mills.

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