Kids Business Looks For Grown-Up Boost

$1 billion goal in sight as more marketers target parents
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Click here for a look at eight major kids players.

Kids TV isn’t just for children any more. A lot of moms are watching with their offspring, and marketers are itching to reach those parents. That’s one reason why this year’s kids market is expected to be strong.

The kids TV business contracted with the rest of the industry when the recession hit. But some on the sales side think the market could add several hundred million in new spending, topping the $1 billion mark for the first time.

“We think ’11 and ’12 is going to be Nickelodeon and Nicktoon’s best year ever,” says Jim Perry, executive VP, 360 Brand Sales, Nickelodeon/ MTVN Kids and Family Group.

Perry points to last year’s healthy kids upfront and a scatter market that has been robust for five quarters, with prices currently 25% to 30% higher than they were in the upfront for inventory in some in-demand weeks.

While the market is dominated by the big players—Viacom’s Nickelodeon, Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Channel and Time Warner’s Cartoon Network—there are a number of newer, smaller players that are hoping to grab a bigger share of the pie. The Hub, a joint venture of Discovery Communications and toymaker Hasbro, launched last year; and Disney plans to launch Disney Jr. for preschoolers next year.

Buyers acknowledge the market is strong. “We’ve definitely seen resurgence, and certain categories are leading that,” said Darcy Bowe, associate activation director at media agency Starcom. “Movies have been solid. Toys have been big, they’ve really made a comeback,” especially among midsize toy companies.

In addition to traditional kids advertisers, networks are getting bigger bucks from categories like auto, insurance and the travel industry.

“For us, the real growth has been the adult business, the likes of automotive and packaged goods and insurance companies actually running their commercials and partnering with us on Nickelodeon for coviewing and for families,” says Nickelodeon’s Perry.

“We’ve definitely had a lot more advertisers asking about coview lately,” concurs Starcom’s Bowe. “The networks have been trying to come in and promote their coview story and just talk about how parents are watching with their kids. Because as the kids market levels off, there’s only so many categories that play into it.”

Bowe notes that most of coviewing is on weekends, when families tend to spend time together. But she adds there are questions about whether parents are paying attention to what’s on the screen: “Are they actively engaged, or are they in the room doing other things?”

After a couple of tough years, kids networks are putting more effort into selling marketers multiplatform packages that include the Web as well as TV, which helps marketers now that the price of TV is again on the rise.

“Television has historically been strong, but people have relied on it pretty heavily. While we feel there’s a significant role there as well, we feel there are a number of opportunities, digital being one, place-based being another,” says Shane Ankeney, executive VP, managing director at media agency Initiative U.S. “We think there are opportunities to connect with kids in a lot of different ways.”

“Cartoon Network is No. 2 in audience share in ad-supported kids television, and we are the preeminent destination for boys,” says John O’Hara, executive VP for ad sales and marketing at Cartoon. “If you’re out to reach kids, you need to utilize our network and our Web site.”

O’Hara estimates about 85% of his advertisers use both the linear TV network and CartoonNetwork.com. “We do that in a way that’s very integrated,” he says.

Noncommercial Disney Channel has been expanding its sponsorship model, creating multiplatform packages that reach kids and their parents, according to Rita Ferro, executive VP, Disney Media Sales & Marketing.

Most recently, Ferro says, Chrysler bought a sponsorship of the original movie Lemonade Mouth. In addition to Disney Channel, the sponsorship includes Disney online and the magazine Disney Family Fun. The Milk Processor Education Program tied into the series Good Luck Charlie and a Magic of Healthy Living Initiative for a package that includes TV, online print and radio. “There is an interesting new way of looking at how you can take that sponsorship model and really make it work,” Ferro says.

At last week’s upfront presentation, Ferro began pitching Disney Jr., a new channel aimed at younger kids that will also use the sponsorship model, rather than the traditional commercial model employed by boys-oriented Disney XD.

Last year’s new entry The Hub will be coming to market with some experience under its belt.

“We went into the upfront not having something tangible, so we’re really excited about this year’s upfront,” says Brooke Goldstein, senior VP of ad sales for The Hub. She says the network has had success with coviewing, particularly with its Family Game Night program, and will be adding new shows this year including R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour and Dan Vs. from Film Roman to complement Hasbro franchises like Transformers and My Little Pony.

Five-year-old PBS Kids Sprout, aimed at kids 2 to 5 years old, will be coming to market with Nielsen ratings for the ! rst time. “Our numbers are very strong, and it opens up a lot of conversations for us on the advertising side when you’ve got measurement,” says Sandy Wax, president and general manager of Sprout. “We’re like a kid in the candy store now we’ve got these Nielsen numbers. You have accountability, but you also have tools so that you can really understand your audience.” Naturally, Sprout’s research shows a high concentration of mothers watching TV with their children.

Nickelodeon’s Perry isn’t concerned that smaller players jumping into the kids business will slow down the market leader. “We don’t think any new players will have any impact whatsoever,” he says.

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

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