Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids & Family Group president Cyma Zarghami has the kids-targeted service clicking
on all cylinders. The network, which has been the most watched cable channel on a 24-hour basis for the last
16 years, is riding the ratings success of such breakout hits as iCarly, Victorious and animated stronghold
SpongeBobSquarePants. Zarghami has also led the Nick’s brand-extension efforts into cruise ships, online
gaming and music. Zarghami recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead
about the state of Nickelodeon, as well as the company’s plans for the upcoming year.
MCN: Is the Nick brand today more influential and impactful
in the kid space than it’s ever been?
Cyma Zarghami: We’ve worked very hard to maintain
our leadership position over the past two years and to
really make sure, as you said, that we are firing on all
cylinders and/or have a hit in all genres and kids demos,
and be everywhere that kids are. So in preschool, we’re
making great curriculum-based content with great stories
and great characters. We developed Team Umizoomi
a couple of years ago to take math head on, and we got
really excited about it.
We developed Monkey Quest (Nick’s multiplayer online
game) so that we could have an incredibly high quality
virtual world for kids. We’re also combing the globe to
get great international content so we can bring interesting
new genres to add to the mix like [U.K. drama series]
House of Anubis and [Italy-based] Winx Club to the U.S. So
everything that we’re doing we’re still doing. We have great
existing content, we have great new content coming and
we’re trying to branch out a little bit in everything that we
do so that we stay relevant and add value to everything.
MCN: Are you concerned at all about Disney’s launch
next year of its pre-school block Disney Jr. as a 24-hour
CZ: Nick Jr., the channel, has grown year over year for the
past three years. It has a big audience and a big fan base,
and I think our pipeline looks so rich with great content.
The equity that we’ve built with moms I think has us as
well positioned as we possibly could be. But as you know,
we never take our eye off the competition.
MCN: It’s been nearly two years now since you launched
Nick Jr. as a 24-hour channel, as well as teen-targeted
network TeenNick. How has that transition worked both
CZ: It has been better than we thought it would be. We saw
the uptick almost immediately, and part of the strategy
overall was to have the value that the audience perceived
accrue back to Nickelodeon. So I think it has worked really
well. The quality just kept getting better. We’re now kicking
into what we call ‘one brand 2.0,’ which is to see how
we can make it even better.
MCN: Having said that, anything on the development
side with those channels that we should keep an eye on?
CZ: On TeenNick we’re very excited about the Degrassi telenovela
idea coming back again this summer, and we are
adding a block this summer called ‘The ’90s Are All That.’
We heard from 10 million Facebook fans who said they want
their old Nickelodeon back, so we’re planning to deliver it to
them at midnight on TeenNick starting this summer. We’ve
been working with All That as the foundation and looking at
all our stuff , including animation and live-action shows like
Kenan & Kel, Rugrats, Doug and Clarissa Explains It All. The
way the whole block is programmed will be incredibly interactive
with the fans sort of demanding what they want to see
— at some level, and we’ll change out the schedule accordingly.
So it’s really exciting.
MCN: Let’s switch to Nickelodeon itself. Are you surprised
that iCarly is still as strong as it is four seasons
in, and that Victorious has really moved the needle in
terms of audience numbers in its first year?
CZ: Well, first of all, don’t forget Big Time Rush, which is
right up there with the other two. We all know that [iCarly
andVictorious executive producer] Dan Schneider is a magician,
but iCarly just may be the best show on television. I
think when a show finds its rhythm and its stride the way
iCarly has, it just keeps getting better and better. Dan just
has so many great ideas and the cast is so competent that
they can do almost anything.
We’re excited about the (June 11) iParty With Victorious
TV event, and the specials we have planned for iCarly,
Victorious and Big Time Rush should just keep propelling
them further and further along in their hit status. The music
[related to these shows] is working as well. Our relationship
with Sony Music is a great relationship and we have
really found that these two teams work brilliantly together.
[Victorious star] Victoria [Justice’s] singles [Begging on
Your Knees and Freak the Freak Out] went gold and the Big
Time Rush album went gold. You know, we’re two for two
at the moment, which feels great.
MCN: On the animation side, Nickelodeon is preparing
to step up its animation production over the next
year or so. But you have something called SpongeBob
SquarePants, which is doing extremely well and heading
into its 200th episode. Did you have any expectations
that this would be as big a franchise as it has been for
CZ: No. You know with something like SpongeBob, you
can put all of the ingredients into
the pot, mix it up and sometimes
it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
I think SpongeBob just came along
at a magical time. And again,
the quality of the characters and
the storytelling just has not ever
dipped. So coming up on the 200th
episode, we couldn’t be more excited
to be going into our second
MCN: Why is animation such a
big area now for Nickelodeon going
CZ: It has always been. It is really
the bread and butter of kids’ television
because it repeats, it travels around the world and it
resonates with the broadest possible audience. So we have
never taken our foot off the gas in animation — we just happen
to be in a great place at the moment because so much
is working, which is why the quantity that we’re coming up
on feels much bigger. So Kung Fu Panda and Teenage Mutant
NinjaTurtles are going to be incredibly exciting for us.
We have Robot & Monster in production, which is an original
development from our team. Korra is the next iteration
of airbenders from Mike [DiMartino] and Bryan [Konietzko]
of The Last Airbender fame. We have a Fairly OddParents
movie this summer, which is going to be very exciting.
MCN: I also wanted to talk about your brand-extension
efforts. Is that still a major piece of the pie with regards
to what you’re trying to accomplish with Nickelodeon?
CZ: We have opportunities to expand the content beyond
where it has typically been. The Nickelodeon cruise [in
partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruises] is a great marketing
event. The idea that people can experience Nickelodeon
for seven days straight is very exciting. So we love
the cruise business.
We have a great relationship with the [Universal Orlando
theme park], and we have the [Nickelodeon] Hotel in
Orlando, although the economy in the last couple years
slowed us down a bit on the hotel front. And I went to visit
recently the [Nickelodeon Universe attraction] in the Mall
of America, which was great.
We could take Big Time Rush and Victorious out on tour
and touch consumers where they live.