Upfronts 2009: Nickelodeon Touts “Global Force of Fun”

Teen-and-toon networks unveil new Michael Eisner series, TEENick and Nick Jr. rebrands
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Bigger, better, bolder: That’s Nickelodeon’s catch phrase for attracting and keeping ad business in a bad economy. And the popular kid’s network – part of the Viacom’s MTV Networks suite of cable channels – brought out some of its biggest stars for its upfront presentation to advertisers Thursday in Manhattan.

There was Keke Palmer, the star of True Jackson, VP; Dev Patel of the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire who will star in The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan’s big screen adaptation of the Nickelodeon series Avatar; and former Disney chairman Michael Eisner, whose production company Torante is producing a primetime animated comedy for Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite.

Eisner’s Glenn Martin, DDS follows the adventures of an overworked dentist and the family who decide to chuck the stresses of the workaday world for an extended road trip in a Winnebago.

The stop-motion animated comedy, set to premiere this summer, follows the Martin family’s cross-country adventures as they encounter colorful characters from Washington D.C., to Las Vegas to Amish country. Kevin Nealon voices Dr. Martin; he’ll be joined by a bevy of famous guest stars, including Gene Simmons, Betty White and Chrissie Hynde.

The presentation stressed Nickelodeon’s reach in the marketplace via linear television, Web destinations—including Nick.com, Neopets.com and AddictingGames.com—and film studio Nickelodeon Movies.

Judy McGrath, MTV Networks chairman and CEO, called the Nickelodeon portfolio a “global force for fun,” kicking off a re-branding effort that will come to fruition in the fall when teen-targeted programming blocks The N and Noggin will be re-christened TEENick and Nick, Jr., respectively. Nicktoons Network will retain its name while Nick.com will expand to become the digital hub for the network’s online properties.

Nick Cannon, honorary chairman for The N who got his start on Nickelodeon’s All That, will be a “development consultant” for TEENick. His first project for the network, The Halo Awards, has Cannon traveling the country looking for young people who are making a difference in their communities.

“I understand this generation,” said Cannon. “What they really want is to be part of something pro-social.”

Nickelodeon is the top-rated basic cable kids network, controlling 63% of the gross ratings point in the marketplace, according to Jim Perry, executive VP, 360 Brand Sales, Nickelodeon, MTVN Kids and Family Gorup. The network has 72% of viewers 2-plus, up 2 share points from a year ago and has grown its online viewers by 13%.

McGrath also talked up the networks SpongeBob SquarePants merchandising deal with Walmart. Nickelodeon and Walmart have partnered to make the retailer the exclusive home of the SpongeBob “Happy Place,” featuring licensed apparel, DVDs, music, toys and books. The integrated marketing campaign also includes print and web promotion such as a microsite on the Walmart Website.

Dottie Mattison, senior VP/general manager of Walmart’s apparel division, called the yellow sea sponge an “antidote” for depressing times. “He’s also a great way for us to bring some happiness into our customers’ lives.”

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