Nickelodeon is getting in on TV’s revival craze, and will be bringing back one of its most popular shows, Blue’s Clues.
The network made the announcement just ahead of its upfront event, which will be held this afternoon. The Blue’s Clues news is part of an ambitious slate that expands beyond linear and across platforms, with new music festivals, augmented reality apps and a YouTube short-form series.
Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon Group, said the network will air more than 800 episodes of new and returning series this season, which is a 20 percent increase over last year.
“More is the new normal, and we have a very robust pipeline, and that’s one of the things that gives us great confidence at the moment. We’re trying to speak to diversity, authenticity, inclusion and make sure that we’re telling stories that are going to be incredibly relevant for today’s kids. That requires that we innovate on a regular basis,” said Zarghami.
Under the new Viacom structure that CEO Bob Bakish implemented last year, “we’re reinventing everything,” said Zarghami. “That’s one of the themes for our upfront this year, is reinvention on behalf of the audience, reinvention because of what’s happening in the industry and reinvention at the heard of the creative community.”
This year’s upfront event was held at New York’s Palace Theatre, the home of the new hit SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, which ties into Zarghami’s reinvention theme. “The SpongeBob musical is an incredible example of how great IP at the center can serve the audience on every platform, and by the way, expand the footprint of that audience into families and adults,” she said.
But back to Blue’s Clues: Nickelodeon is bringing back the puppy Blue for a new generation of preschoolers. The series—which ended its original run in 2006—will feature a new, live-action host and CG animation.
The network has renewed Lip Sync Battles Shorties for a second season, with Nick Cannon returning as host, alongside his sidekick JoJo Siwa. It is also developing a spinoff of its animated series The Loud House, called Los Casagrandes.
WWE star John Cena—who is returning to host the Kids’ Choice Awards this year— is executive producing a new game show, Keep It Spotless.
The network greenlit an animated comedy series, Pony, about a talking pony who comes to live with a girl named Annie and their family in a city apartment.
Nickelodeon is the No. 1 network this year for kids 2-11 and kids 6-11, and has been the top-rated kids basic cable network for 22 years, but Bakish admitted during an earnings call last month that the network has had some “ratings softness.” He said it is addressing it by ramping up its marketing and social video strategy, and expanding into live events.
For starters, Nickelodeon will bring the Nickelodeon SlimeFest music festival to the U.S. for the first time, after holding the event in the U.K., South Africa, Australia, Italy and Spain. The two-day festival for kids and families will take place in Chicago on June 9 and 10, and feature performances from Zedd, Liam Payne, Flo Rida and JoJo Siwa. Several other Nickelodeon stars will also be in attendance.
“SlimeFest is a way to bring slime, plus Nickelodeon characters, plus music, to a community where families may want to find entertainment together,” said Zarghami. “It really is great for our brand to come to life where the fans are, as opposed to just expecting them to find us all the time on television.” And Paw Patrol Live, which will make approximately 180 stops around the country, is another success for the brand.
The expansion into live events also gives brands new opportunities, both on-air and on-site, said Sean Moran, head of marketing and partner solutions for Viacom. The movie studios category has been a major part of the Kids’ Choice Awards. “We’ve really helped launch a lot of shows there, not the least of which was Wonder Woman last year,” Moran said. “And the reaction that we had with SlimeFest when we started talking about that in last year’s upfront was huge.”
Moran said Nickelodeon will be announcing its SlimeFest sponsors “in the not-too-distant future.”
During this upfront, Nickelodeon will also be looking for new partnerships in emerging tech, which was featured in several of today’s upfront announcements, said Zarghami.
Nickelodeon is adding an augmented reality (AR) mode to its Sky Whale mobile game app, and creating a new AR app, Do Not Touch. Do Not Touch builds on the “do not touch” button in the Nick app, and highlights the network’s brands like SpongeBob SquarePants, the Kids’ Choice Awards blimp and slime.
The brand is also launching Musical Dares, a short-form competition series on its YouTube channel. The show was created with Viacom Digital Studios and is executive produced by Nick Cannon.
Going forward, “short-form is going to be really interesting,” said Zarghami. “How we translate not just long-form into short-form, but how we can bring short-form to life as perhaps a way to feed back to long-form.”
Overall, Zarghami is turning Nickelodeon into a brand that includes linear, retail, location-based entertainment, social and mobile expansions and theatricals with Paramount (animated film Amusement Park will launch a Nickelodeon animated series in 2019). “We are really building an ecosystem that allows this brand to survive in any expansion of media,” said Zarghami.
During today’s event, “we’re really excited about having all of our clients there and celebrating the fact that Nickelodeon does not stop, that it keeps reinventing and touching points like no other brand can,” said Moran.
One thing Zarghami won’t be talking about at the upfront is her own future at Nickelodeon, which has been the subject of speculation since Viacom recently gave Sarah Levy, the COO of the company’s global entertainment group, oversight of operations and strategy for BET and Nickelodeon as well.
On last month’s earnings call, Bakish said there had been “no change in leadership” at Nickelodeon, and the move was about “shared support structure” and extending Levy’s responsibilities to Nickelodeon and BET.
When asked yesterday whether she had any messages to clients and advertisers about her future at the network as they considered their upfront buys, Zarghami said only, “Well, I’ll be there tomorrow!” and laughed. But she declined to comment further.
John Cena, Nick Cannon and JoJo Siwa were also scheduled to make appearances at the event, which will also feature performances from the cast of SpongeBob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical.