Kids Are Watching the Weirdest Stuff on TV—and It’s Not Always From Kids’ Networks

Telenovelas are among the highest-rated deliverers of kids 6-11

The kids market is a place where fierce competition rages between otherwise cuddly characters like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse (yes, both are still around, albeit in newer, hipper incarnations), but it turns out there’s a contingent of children watching stuff that isn’t marketed to or made for them at all.

For a year’s worth of ratings, kids 6-11 (of see-it-want-it age, which makes them an important demographic for marketers) tuned in on the top three networks at fairly standard rates: 658,000 on Disney and 459,000 on Nickelodeon, along with 421,000 on Cartoon.

By contrast, the average audience for Nick at Nite’s YouTube-for-TV show, AwesomenessTV? A whopping 654,000 even though it’s aimed at older teenagers. Kids were also glued to America’s Got Talent on NBC Tuesday and Wednesday nights (479,000 and 413,000, respectively), to NBC’s The Voice (404,000), and to Nick at Nite’s reruns of Full House (395,000). The latest installments in the soapy WWE professional wrestling franchise on USA (369,000) make a little more sense—at least those characters have action figures. But there was an even more sizable audience for Mi Corazón es Tuyo (378,000), a novela on Univision that has absolutely nothing to do with targeting children.

Fred Seibert, founder and executive producer of Frederator (and a 30-year veteran of children’s programming, who’s worked at Nick and Cartoon), said that kids’ tastes are almost always surprising. “I remember when we were first trying to figure out what Nickelodeon was. We did a little research and discovered that the most popular show for kids was reruns of Starsky and Hutch at 4 p.m.,” Seibert recalled of his work with the kids’ channel some 30 years ago. “We learned that the most popular stuff with kids is in the time zone when they’re watching, and then they search for stuff that makes sense for them.”

Slapstick, bright colors, funny noises; these things just work if you’re under a certain age—even when they come plastered with big warnings. Seibert remembers the hue and cry over kids who watched South Park a few years ago (“Where were their parents?” he wondered), and things haven’t changed. The animated T.I. and Tiny: Holiday Hustle Special attracted 266,000 kids. It wasn’t The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it definitely included Atlanta rapper T.I. and his kid delivering Christmas presents to strippers while T.I. rapped “this club so packed/these girls so drunk.”

Back to more wholesome fare: That rating for AwesomenessTV suggests something Seibert has preached for a while (Frederator has a YouTube channel): Kids prefer the Web, which is policed far less effectively, to TV. A sizable portion of YouTube’s traffic is said to come from kids. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act rules notwithstanding, it may be the next frontier in online video.