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Nick Gets Ready for a ‘Wild’ Upfront Ride

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It’s T-minus seven days and counting until Nickelodeon kicks off the 2011-12 kids upfront bazaar, and Jim Perry sounds like he can’t wait to start cutting deals. Little wonder. For 16 years running, Nickelodeon has been the No. 1 network among all key kiddie demos in total-day viewing, and with a command of some 75 percent of all the GRPs in its competitive spread, the network and its branded offshoots essentially set the market.

As far as Perry sees it, this spring should bear witness to the most lucrative kids upfront in history, as the prevailing winds of a robust scatter market are commingling with a deluge of business from each of the leading categories. “If you start with toys, which is obviously the biggest category in the kids market, we’re enjoying a big resurgence lately,” says Perry, evp of ad sales, Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group. He adds that sales have been particularly helped along by heavier buying from midtier players like LEGO and Spin Master.

Studio dollars have also been flowing freely, thanks to an uncommonly broad slate of kid-targeted releases like Pixar’s Toy Story 3 and Paramount Pictures’ Rango. And while the category once seemed destined for exile to the Island of Misfit Toys, food has bounced back in a significant way. If the invisible hand of the kids market was once sticky with jelly donut filling, a concerted effort by programmers and food purveyors has transformed the dialogue between TV and its many watchdogs.

“With food, the worst of it is behind us,” Perry says, referring to cooperative marketing efforts meant to encourage kids to exercise and eat healthier. That and a push by major brands to reformulate some of their packaged-food products have brought spending back above pre-2007 levels. “We saw food start to really pick up in the first two quarters of 2010, and then we landed some really solid gains in last year’s upfront.” he says.

Nonendemic categories have also been piling on, as Nick continues to attract multigenerational audiences. Perry, who brought on two new auto clients during last year’s upfront, says he believes that cars, CPG, travel and retail will add a tasty strata of frosting to Nick’s layer cake. Early projections have this year’s kids bazaar up 8 percent to 10 percent on dollar volume versus the 2010-11 upfront when clients committed in excess of $1 billion.

“I’m not going to make any fast and hard projections, but I think we’re in a fantastic place, competitively,” Perry says. “And as we continue to do more on the digital side and the more exclusive deals we can cut—where we’re getting 100 percent of a client’s kids TV budget—then I think we’re in for a wild ride.”