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Nick Makes Saturday Morning Cartoons Cool Again

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With prime time booked solid with live-action hits like iCarly, Victorious and Big Time Rush, Nickelodeon is loading up on that time-honored standard, the Saturday morning cartoon.

Over the course of the next three years, Nickelodeon will roll out 450 hours of new animation programming, a commitment that will cover every genre from original cartoon shorts to CGI mashups. Nearly half (200 hours) of this new content will premiere in 2012.

Among the high-profile shows that will kick off each weekend are a new 30-minute strip from DreamWorks Animation, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness and a CG-animated reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. Currently in production, the pizza-scarfing heroes on a half shell return to the tube in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Also in the works are the girl power butt-kicker The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, the giddy CGI series Robot & Monster and Winx Club, a rainbow-hued Italian import about fairies and pixies.

The new shows will air alongside Nick tentpole SpongeBob SquarePants––now in its 10th season, the adventures of the daffy yellow porifera and his undersea pals airs 50-plus times per week––as well as more recent hits like Penguins of Madagascar and Fanboy and Chum Chum.

As part of a new wrinkle for Saturday morning, the network will stage the block from its Nickelodeon Animation Studios, allowing viewers a behind-the-scenes look at celebrity voiceover recordings and various techniques used by animators.

Nickelodeon’s Saturday morning lineup averages 3.2 million total viewers per week; moreover, the four-hour (8 a.m.-noon) block has been the No. 1 destination for kids 2-11 for 11 consecutive seasons.

Last month, Nick was tops in total-day deliveries, a distinction the net has held for 16 years running. With an average draw of 2.33 million viewers, Nick outdelivered rival Disney Channel by 550,000 viewers while besting its nearest ad-supported competition, Cartoon Network, by a margin of 1.33 million viewers.

Older kids can look forward to 100 new episodes of live-action content, including the original prime-time TV movie event, iParty with Victorious. A mashup of Nick hits iCarly and Victorious, the movie explores the rift that occurs between Carly (Amanda Cosgrove) and Tori (Victoria Justice) when a manipulative, two-timing boy tries to pull a Jack Tripper on them. (Spoiler alert: Revenge is served and with a musical accompaniment.)

Premiering June 10, iParty with Victorious features a cameo appearance from Nick alum Kenan Thompson (All That, Kenan & Kel).
 
In addition to the movie event, Nick will unveil all new installments of iCarly, Victorious, Big Time Rush, House of Anubis and True Jackson, VP. Two live-action series bowing later this year are Supah Ninjas and Bucket & Skinner’s Epic Adventures.

Nickelodeon commands some 75 percent of all the GRPs in its competitive spread, and given the strength of the advertising market, the network is looking forward to a lucrative 2011-12 upfront season.

“If you start with toys, which is obviously the biggest category in the kids market, we’re enjoying a big resurgence lately,” said Jim Perry, evp, Nickelodeon 360º Brand Sales, adding that business has been boosted 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. 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 10 percent on dollar volume versus the 2010-11 upfront, when clients committed in excess of $1 billion.