Early read on kids market looks better than 2001-’02: Cartoon Network writes early deals as inventory shrinks and demand appears stable – Advertising
At a time when serious doubts continue to linger over the overall advertising marketplace, the children’s TV ad market is surprisingly strong. Several early upfront ad deals for the 2002-’03 TV season are already in place, with at least one major cable kids player–Cartoon Network–and media buyers expecting the majority of the kids upfront deals to move briskly when new fall TV schedules are unveiled by the other major kids TV players this month and next. If that proves to be the case, it would signal a return to normal for the tightly controlled kids TV market, where a handful of big buyers–most notably New York-based MediaCom (Grey Advertising) and Chicago-based Starcom (Leo Burnett), as well as toy giant Mattell–determine when, where and how much gets spent in support of children’s TV programming.
It would also be an ironic turnabout for the kids TV marketplace, which began to languish and shrink during the late 1990s as buyers seized control over an expanding supply of advertising options. While large buyers of kids TV do not expect the kind of surging demand that sent ad prices skyrocketing for top kids programs during much of the early 1990s, they do see some upside for the daypart, which is more than most ad executives are willing to say about the rest of the ad marketplace for 2002-’03.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a drawn-out market like last year. It’s something that can be done reasonably in four weeks in April, once everyone announces their lineup,” says one of the top three kids TV buyers, who would not speak for attribution, who added this caveat: “Any impact on price is going to be driven more by a reduced supply than by dollars in the marketplace.”
At this point, buyers expect scheduling changes by some suppliers to reduce the supply of kids programming hours and, presumably, of gross rating points. “Assuming advertising budgets are flat and the supply is down 5%, that will put upward pressure on prices,” he notes.
The precise magnitude of the kids TV scheduling changes is still unknown, because several players, particularly ABC, have yet to unveil plans. However, MBD has learned that ABC is close to unveiling a new integrated kids TV sales organization, dubbed ABC & Family Kids Sales, to encompass the ABC Television Network’s and the ABC Family Channel’s kids TV programming, as well as advertising on Toon Disney and marketing partnerships on Disney Channel. It will also likely include ad sales on Buena Vista Television’s kids shows airing on the UPN network.
“We now have so many platforms that we’re a formidable player,” says Laura Nathanson, EVP of the unit, adding several large kids advertisers and agencies have already begun feeling out the unit for 2002-’03 ad deals. “People don’t usually start calling you in February unless they want to get some money down. We didn’t see this last year at this time,” she says.
The new unit is modeled after the ESPN/ABC Sports sales and marketing unit created several years ago by parent Walt Disney Co. to leverage its dominant sports position. Unlike the sports marketplace, however, there no longer is a clear dominant player in kids TV. Nickelodeon continues to be a huge presence in terms of supply of kids rating points, but Cartoon Network has demonstrated steady growth and is now integrated with sister broadcast unit Kids WB.
Nickelodeon’s ad sales have also been integrated with Viacom’s CBS unit. Other emerging players include Discovery Kids and Hallmark Channel.
Meanwhile, Cartoon Network has leapt out in front of the market with at least four upfront deals that are early given an overall economic climate in which most advertisers and agencies are loath to release ad budgets until necessary.
But buyers say early Cartoon deals are tied to strategic programming and licensing agreements and therefore had to be consummated earlier than the rest of the marketplace. They are believed to include a major pact between General Mills and Turner surrounding a new He-Man series, as well as deals involving Hasbro and Mattel.
Should the national kids market show strength, cable operators could see increased activity in local and spot sales, particularly during the crucial fourth-quarter holiday selling season.
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