Kids' Upfront Forecast to be Flat

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NEW YORK -It now appears that once all of the deals are done this spring, the kids' upfront ad-sales market will again be flat, several cable sales executives said.

"Our sense is that the overall kids' market could look a lot like last year's," said a Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc. spokesman. Even though the economy was stronger in 2000, most industry sources estimated the total kids' upfront held steady at $750 million last spring, with cable's share at about $450 million.

Cost-per-thousand growth for 2001 is likely to be "modest," he added.

But were the overall kids' upfront to tread water, cable's share of the pie should still grow because it has tallied stronger ratings than the broadcasters, said Fox Family Channel executive vice president of ad sales Barbara Bekkedahl.

Turner executives anticipate a March-to-April time frame for the upfront, while Fox Family's sales force expects an April close. A spokesman for Nickelodeon last week would say only that the network's ad-sales business has become more evenly distributed throughout the year.

"Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon remain must-buys in the kids' market, as they were a year ago," the Turner spokesman said, noting that ratings for the broadcast networks have mostly fallen off. The popularity of the Cartoon Web site-now No. 3 among kids-should bolster that net's cross-media appeal, he added.

While longstanding categories like toys and apparel are weak, more recent category successes-like computer games, entertainment and hygiene-are "pretty strong," according to Turner. It's still unclear whether spending in the latter segments will offset slippage in toy and apparel outlays.

The dot-com category's woes should have a minimal effect on the kids' market, Turner executives said.

In addition, both Turner and Nick expect to negotiate some large, long-term deals outside the upfront process, officials said.

Though well behind in the kids' ratings race, Fox Family expects to fare well in the kidvid upfront, Bekkedahl said. Her sales force is just starting to talk with prospects and also will meet the toy makers in New York during Toy Fair from Feb. 11 through Feb. 15, she said.

Her network expects to succeed with packaged-goods clients and movie studios, especially those targeting "tweens," she added.

In his analysis of fourth-quarter kids' viewing, TN Media Inc. senior vice president of broadcast research Steve Sternberg found a trend that bodes well for the cable nets.

"The amount of time kids spend per week watching the broadcast networks and syndication has dropped," he said. "This is more than made up by the significant increase in viewing to basic cable."

Overall kids' ratings at Fox and ABC slipped last fall, while CBS was helped by its new link with Nick, he said.

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