Are playgrounds quieter these days? If so, look to the TV—particularly cable. Kids' viewing in the fourth quarter was at its highest levels in four years. Which is one reason Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and Cartoon Network rank among the most popular cable networks.
That means it's a good time for the kids networks upfront.
Despite the numbers, though, industry executives aren't predicting a watershed year. The kids upfront is expecting respectable single-digit growth over last year's $800 million take, but nothing spectacular. And the needle on the CPM gage is expected to move in single digits, too.
Why not bigger gains? Big supply. Except for in-demand weeks in the fall and before Christmas, there is plenty of ad time available to satisfy demand. This despite the fact that broadcast networks have largely checked out of the kids business; only The WB offers weekday fare.
The hot action has moved to cable, which claims 68% of kids' total-day viewing. But then, cable also offers 24/7 ad inventory. "You're still able to get on at the last moment, if you're willing to pay," says kids media buyer and Summit Media Group chief Shelly Hirsch.
You can get on Nick, Cartoon Network, Toon Disney, ABC Family's kids block—take your pick. (Disney Channel accepts no traditional ads, only some sponsorships.) Come late May, add another cable network to the list. Nick will begin selling ads for its teen and tween digital network, The N. Reaching about 40 million homes, The N shares its channel with Noggin, geared to younger kids until 6 p.m. Noggin will remain commercial-free but may look at PBS-style sponsorships.
Ad-sales executives say early indications have them upbeat. First-quarter scatter was strong, and second is shaping up nicely. "We're seeing interest from endemic and non-endemic advertisers to put their message in front of kids and families," says Nick head of ad sales Jim Perry. Core advertisers, led by toys, entertainment, and packaged goods, are expected to increase spending. So, too, are more-adult categories, like automotive, computers, and travel.
Why would Ford or Toyota advertise on a kids network? "Kids influence purchasing," says Carat USA Senior Vice President Andy Donchin. "These are efforts to reach parents who are watching with their kids."
Both Nick and Cartoon are aggressively courting adult marketers. Cartoon tries to leverage its late-night Adult Swimblock as an entree for new advertisers. "It is a great door-opener" for adult advertisers, says Executive Vice President of Ad Sales Kim McQuilken. "They'll buy Adult Swim and then the Cartoon Network mothership."
Good news aside, one giant unknown is looming: how Washington's focus on kids' obesity might impact food advertising (BC, 3/8) . "Either the government will mandate there will be no advertising to kids," Hirsch predicts, "or they will have to clean up their act." Cartoon and Nick executives aren't panicking yet. They say they're working with clients on ways to educate viewers. There might even be some new business opportunities. "A lot of [companies] are talking about developing new good-for-you products," Perry notes. "They will need to market and advertise."