Nick Faces Easiest Kids Upfront

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Of all the children-oriented networks scrapping for slicesof the 1998 kids' upfront advertising sales pie, Nickelodeon should have the easiesttime, given its bevy of multi-year sponsor commitments.

'There's not too much new stuff,' said SamMoser, Nick's senior vice president of ad sales, last week, pointing out that Nickwill be concentrating on the new inventory created by its latest half-hour expansion intoprimetime.

Of course, he added, Nickelodeon is 'open [toextensions of its long-term deals] if somebody wanted to talk about it.'

Nickelodeon first offered two-year deals in the 1995 kidvidupfront and has extended many of those in the upfronts since then.

Nick's lavish upfront breakfast -- set for Feb. 12 atthe Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan -- again will target the advertising community during ToyFair week and expects to reach '90 percent of the people we need,' he said. Thepresentation is too big to tour, but Nick will hold subsequent individual presentationsfor those agency buyers its New York pitch missed, he added.

Like Karl Kuechenmeister, senior vice president ofkids' sales at Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc., Moser expected the kids' upfrontgrowth to be spurred by such relatively new categories as personal care (includingshampoos and sun-care products) and computer-related products (including software). Othercomparative newcomers are apparel companies, footwear marketers (chiefly sneakers) andretailers, Moser added. And then there are the perennial kids' advertisers, fromsnack foods to toys to fast foods (which he dubbed 'QSRs,' or quick-servicerestaurants).

Moser, who expected the upfront marketplace to wrap byearly February, as in the recent past, estimated that the 1997 kids' upfrontgenerated $800 million-plus a year ago and that the 'healthy' '98 marketshould be 'a bit north of that.' Other industry sources have predicted an uptickof up to $30 million.

But there's disagreement over the size of the upfrontmarket. Steve Heyer, Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s president of worldwide sales,marketing, distribution and international networks, felt that the current upfront wouldtop $800 million, versus about $750 million a year ago.

Gary Carr, senior vice president at Ammirati Puris Lintas,agreed with Heyer's figures. Still, Carr said the estimated uptick of $30 millionjibes with his projected 'modest,' under-5-percent upfront growth for 1998. Carrfelt the upfront negotiations should run 'between the Super Bowl and [the start of ]the Winter Olympics' in early February.

No one is willing to discuss cost-per-thousand homes (CPM)pricing on the record, though some industry sources put Nick's at $7, more thandouble Cartoon Network's $3.

Still an unknown factor is Fox Family Channel. Some agencybuyers indicated that might be useful as a bargaining wedge to lower other networks'prices, but others pointed out that the lack of a ratings track record may prevent that toany significant degree.

Carr came away from Fox's upfront pitch saying,'I wasn't blown away.' He expects low initial ratings but conceded,'It's hard to predict what kids will like.' For that reason, he said,it's wise to spread budgets across several kids' services.

Other buyers noted that the kids' ratings picture canchange fast on the basis of one or two hit series like Fox Kids Network's PowerRangers.

Another new entry, The Disney Channel's Toon Disneyspinoff network, is due to launch this year with commercials, but no one is sure whatimpact it will have on the marketplace.

Cable may gain a boost in fall 1999 when the Disney/KelloggAlliance's package is expected to quit syndication. The 1998-99 season marks thesecond of the alliance's two-year contract; Leo Burnett USA, Kellogg Co.'s adagency, handles distribution of the daily 90-minute package.

A year ago, Myers Consulting Group estimated that the 1997kids' upfront stood at $800 million, with $365 million going to network cable, $345million to the broadcast television networks and $90 million to syndication; only thelatter sector posted a decline in 1997.

By network, cable's powerhouse -- and the overallkids' upfront leader-- was Nick, at $250 million, followed by Turner at $100 million.Nick and Turner gained, while other cable networks, chiefly the Family Channel and USANetwork, dropped to $15 million.

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