Cartoon Network, the perennial runner-up to Nickelodeon,
may be able to notch above-average ad-sales gains in another otherwise lackluster
1999-2000 cable kids' upfront marketplace, some cable ad executives said last week.
One prejudiced source was Cartoon's Karl
Kuechenmeister, senior vice president of kids' sales at Turner Broadcasting Sales
Inc., who said, "There's room for [ad-sales] growth on Cartoon, based on
audience growth -- up 39 percent" in total-day delivery for kids six to 11.
In other Nielsen Media Research data cited by Turner
executives at its upfront, Cartoon scored its highest primetime household rating yet in
1998 -- a 1.5. Nickelodeon posted a 2.0.
Cartoon's pitch to ad-agency buyers Jan. 19 again
kicked off the official kids' upfront season. Fox Family Channel's presentation
is due Feb. 8, and Nick's Feb. 11.
Cable's "kidvid" upfront (excluding
broadcast) approached $450 million last year, up from $365 million in 1997-98, industry
sources estimated. Nick accounted for $300 million of that amount (up from $250 million),
Turner $100 million (unchanged) and Fox Family in the $30 million to $40 million range
Although he anticipated a "flat" year in terms of
overall sales and pricing, Kuechenmeister felt that Cartoon's ratings gains would
enable it to show the most growth in the cable upfront.
Nickelodeon may hold its own in sales, but it isn't
scoring the kind of ratings growth that it used to, he claimed.
Nick officials countered that in the fourth quarter, its
total-day share was on a par with the previous year, and its primetime ratings among kids
two to 11 rose 30 percent.
An accurate Nick sales projection is difficult, since
it's unclear how many of Nick's multiyear deals are now up for renewal. Since
1995, Nick has been locking in two- and three-year deals.
Nick executives did not return calls seeking comment.
Indeed, a slight slippage since last fall in overall
persons-using-television ratings among kids two to 11 is expected to be factored into
buyers' and sellers' bargaining sessions.
A year ago, the newly revamped Fox Family shook things up
by flooding the kids' marketplace with inventory. Since Fox Family's ratings
didn't match projections, Kuechenmeister and some buyers doubted that it would be as
big a factor this year. Some, in fact, questioned whether it could attain its 1998-99
A Fox Family spokesman said Rick Sirvaitis, the
network's president of ad sales, feels that it's too soon to discuss sales
outlook and strategy.
Jon Mandel, co-managing director of Grey Worldwide's
MediaCom media arm and the biggest kids' buyer, said, "It's way too early
[to offer a projection on the market] because we're not going to do it until
springtime - If you were to do it now, you wouldn't have any clue what you were
doing. Anybody that gives you an early reading [now] is just posturing."