Nickelodeon held its upfront ad sales presentation this morning in New York. Viacom’s powerhouse kids programmer touted more than 700 new episodes for the 2007/08 TV season, including three new series in ’08 and second season pick-ups for The Naked Brothers Band and Just Jordan.
Nick’s three series slated for next year—The Umizumiz, Bubble Guppies and Making Fiends—will join a freshman class of previously announced new series—Tak and the Power of JuJu, Back to the Barnyard and Ni Hao, Kai-lan—starting this fall. There will (naturally) be new episodes of hit series SpongeBob SquarePants, tween faves Zoey 101 and The Fairly OddParents, and preschool star Dora the Explorer.
As with all of Viacom and MTV Networks these days, the programmer highlighted its digital growth online at Nick.com, TurboNick (its broadband channel) and Nicktropolis, its virtual world website that has registered 1 million unique viewers since launching five weeks ago. It took Second Life three years to hit that benchmark.
Last month, Nick.com attracted almost 17 million unique users while TurboNick delivered almost 77 million streams (5 million just for SpongeBob’s Best Day Ever viewer-selected episode in November), representing triple digit growth since Feb. 2006. Nicktropolis expands this month with an area for Nick’s Kids Choice Awards. Related online hangouts for Nick fans include Neopets and AddictingGames.com, both owned by Viacom.
User-generated content was another big theme, from Nick’s ME:TV interactive daypart that already allows kids to contribute to live on-air telecasts via TurboNick, to upcoming live action comedy series iCarly (Sept.), which will incorporate kids’ contributions into scripted episodes and the show’s webcast.
"This will be the first scripted series that (brings) kid-created content into each episode," said Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group, on a post-upfront call with reporters. "iCarly (played by Miranda Cosgrove) has a website where kids can go and periodically they’ll get an assignment to put something on the Web. The producer (Dan Schneider, whose past Nick work includes The Amanda Bynes Show), who just is a hit maker for us, will decide what to do with that content and he’ll incorporate it into the series."
ME:TV is also creating a seamless on-air and off-air Nick experience. "It’s really the idea of breaking down the walls between linear TV and Web-based content," she noted. "Kids send in their content, they rank it, they can pick their preferences on TurboNick and then we pick some stuff and put it on ME:TV in a live programming block two hours everyday between 5:00 and 7:00, Monday through Friday."
The goal, Zarghami added, isn’t just to be in the user-generated content business. It’s about "personalization, it’s the control," she commented. "It’s the connectedness between the two. That’s what we bring to the table. That’s what MTV Networks brings to the table—a legitimate connectedness between the Internet and television in a way that is going to be relevant for all of these audiences."
Nick ad sales chief Jim Perry estimated between 5-10% of his upfront tally will go towards multiplatform sales, encompassing Nick’s on-air and off-air (digital and print) properties.
Perry predicted a robust upfront market for kids TV programmers across the board, with increased spending from toy companies, studios (theatrical and DVD releases) and food advertisers. New categories include automotive (Nick has featured nine car brands to date), travel, financial, consumer electronics and other non-traditional categories of so-called "kidvertisers."
"The family dynamic has changed and more and more parents are sitting down and watching TV with their children," Perry observed on the post-upfront conference call. "We’re finding a lot of people coming to us to reach the family. And so we think that those non-endemic categories will lead to a lot more money coming into the market."
With a nod to those parents, Nick at Nite beefs up its schedule with America’s Funniest Home Videos on Apr. 30 and The George Lopez Show, which will premiere during Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15). Nicktoons, meanwhile, is poised to hit the 50 million homes benchmark and is ramping up its programming, particularly with shortform content.