While Viacom has done away with most of its splashy upfront events this year, dropping them in favor of intimate dinners with agencies, the company is still giving Nickelodeon a big spotlight, as it kicked off this year’s New York upfront galas today.
And in line with Viacom president and CEO Robert Bakish’s new vision for the company, Nickelodeon Group president Cyma Zarghami stressed her brand’s global potential to buyers who assembled at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall.
Nickelodeon is entering this upfront without the pall that was cast over last year’s proceedings, which unfolded as then-CEO Philippe Dauman was publicly feuding with founder Sumner Redstone over the company’s future. Now, Dauman is gone and Viacom has new leadership and a new direction.
With none of last year’s baggage, “we’re all a little bit less grey, and it’s a little bit boring,” Zarghami told Adweek. “We actually can start thinking about how to grow our business now. The past couple of years, we would circle around, quarter by quarter, thinking about how we were going to deliver what we needed to deliver in that particular quarter.”
Earlier last month, Bakish unveiled his plans to turn around the struggling company, by shifting resources to its “flagship six” networks— BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount (which will be rebranded next year from Spike)—which he said have global revenue potential.
That gives Zarghami control of one-third of those “flagship” brands, and a new mandate to maximize value for them. Viacom’s largest and most profitable division, Nickelodeon is the No. 1 kids networks this year in the 2-11, 6-11 and 2-5 demos, and has topped the 2-11 demo for three straight years.
“So his definition of flagship is, can travel the globe, serves a very broad audience and has the potential to work on multiple screens. Check and check and check for Nickelodeon, so we’re really well-positioned to help Bob deliver on his strategy,” said Zarghami.
Now she is hoping that buyers will work with Sean Moran, head of marketing and partner solutions for Viacom, and his team to utilize Nickelodeon Velocity, its partner marketing division, for new partnerships.
In line with Bakish anointing those network as global brands, a big component of Zarghami’s upfront push is around opportunities outside of its linear and digital platforms, like the Kids’ Choice Awards, Kids’ Choice Sports Awards, live tours and the Nickelodeon Hotel. A second Nickelodeon Resort will open in Riviera Maya, Mexico, and a new Paw Patrol Tour Live! tour is launching this fall with sponsors like Pedigree.
“These are all ways for our partners to be able connect with the consumer on television and well beyond. As we start to do that, I think that the shift in the way we work with Sean and his group on Nickelodeon is really about how to connect all of those things together. It creates really big opportunities and it takes Velocity and the more integrated marketing to a whole new level,” said Zarghami.
To that end, said Moran, “we are already in talks, for major deals that go far beyond the GRPs [gross ratings points].”
During last week’s Toy Fair, “we met with a bunch of our partners who said, we want to work more globally with Nickelodeon,” said Zarghami. “So for the two big categories, there are more opportunities for us to be much more connected on a global basis.”
Nickelodeon will also be working closely with Paramount, bringing the animated film Amusement Park to theaters in summer 2018, which will launch as a Nickelodeon series in 2019. “We’ll start to roll out some of the other ones that we have in development shortly after that,” said Zarghami.
The 700 (Episode) Club
Nickelodeon will feature 700 episodes of new and returning series this year. Highlights from its upcoming slate include The Adventures of Kid Danger and Captain Man, an animated spinoff of its live-action hit, Henry Danger, which was 2016’s No. 1 kids show on TV. The live-action cast will voice the animated series, about Henry Danger’s crime-fighting duo.
In other spinoff news, Nick has picked up Lip Sync Battle Shorties, a spinoff of Spike’s Lip Sync Battle, which will feature regular kids (not celebs) lip syncing songs from their favorite artists. The show, which sprung from the success of the hour-long special that aired in December, will premiere this fall.
Nickelodeon will reimagine its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise with a new animated series, tentatively titled Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which will premiere in fall 2018. Zarghami said it will feature more humor, and “a younger and lighter feel.”
The company has signed Jojo Siwa, a 13-year-old singer, dancer and social media influencer, to an overall multiplatform deal that will include a new documentary special about her.
And next year will see the launch of Nickelodeon SlimeFest, a multi-day family music festival that will take place at a still-undetermined U.S. location. The event already occurs globally, in Australia, the U.K., Spain, Italy and South Africa.
Last month, Moran told Adweek that Viacom would be scrapping most of its elaborate upfront spectacles (last year it held five of them) for intimate agency dinners with its CEO and other execs.
While Viacom has moved to upfront dinners for all networks in the Global Entertainment Group (MTV, Comedy Central, Spike, TV Land, CMT, Logo and VH1), the company elected to hold a traditional upfront event this year for Nickelodeon, as well as BET (that will be held on April 27).
“Nickelodeon is an entity unto itself that goes way beyond any one screen,” explained Moran. “It’s such a great engine that connects with kids in such a wonderful way, that it really deserves its full focus and that day to explain to all of its partners that are currently working with it, or potential partners, how they can benefit from being a partner with Nickelodeon.”
Nickelodeon’s upfront concluded with a performance by Pitbull.