UPDATE, 5:15 PM with video and more information throughout: Viacom CEO Bob Bakish kicked off Nickelodeon’s sales-season opening upfront presentation Thursday afternoon from the stage of Jazz at Lincoln Center, saying Nickelodeon — one of the reorganized company’s six “flagship” brands — “is proud to be first” in it mission “to make the world a more playful place.” The event included appearances by playful Nick stars Gwen Stefani, Jace Norman (aka Henry Danger) and 13-year-old mistress of social media JoJo Siwa. Bakish turned the confab over to Nickelodeon Group president Cyma Zarghami, who pointed out Shari Redstone in the audience, calling the Viacom Vice Chair “Nickelodeon’s greatest fan.”
Nickelodeon will expand the offerings on its hit series like Henry Danger; introduce new shows, including spinoffs developed in its own pipeline; and move the cable channel into new platforms including live entertainment, Zarghami told key advertisers, before unveiling the kids network’s upcoming projects, including:
• an animated series based on the top-ranked live-action hit Henry Danger, starring Norman
• Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a new animated TMNT series slated for fall 2018
• The Adventures Of Kid Danger And Captain Man (working title), an animated series created and executive produced by Dan Schneider (Henry Danger, Game Shakers, iCarly), spun off from the live-action Henry Danger
• Lip Sync Battle Shorties, a spinoff of Spike’s Lip Sync Battle
• more Kuu Kuu Harajuku from pop star Gwen Stefani, who was on hand at the upfront
• a TV special and consumer products line based on performer, actress and social media influencer Siwa, slated to debut this summer
• first look at Amusement Park, Paramount Pictures’ animated feature set for release in 2018, which will be followed by a Nickelodeon-produced TV series the next year
“Today’s kids are coming of age in a revolutionary period of change, in tech, entertainment, politics and culture, and these factors have definitely influenced how they see the world,” Zarghami said. “It’s our job to understand everything we can about kids, and connect our audience to relevant content and characters that speak to their need for authenticity and diversity – both on our screens and beyond through on-the-ground experiences.”
In keeping with Bakish’s mandate to better integrate the Vicom flagships and prop up Paramount, the presentation included a teaser for Amusement Park. Prompted by its own research, Zarghami said, Nickelodeon has developed content “that is relevant and authentic” for its target audience of young viewers. For example, kids’ love of family is reflected in shows like The Loud House and The Thundermans; their interest in being their own boss is in the premise of shows like Game Shakers; and diversity is woven throughout all quarters of Nickelodeon, from Nella The Princess Knight to Shimmer And Shine, to the network’s ongoing legacy of strong female leads.
The presentation was capped with a performance by multi-platinum recording artist Pitbull and a chorus of hair-swinging, butt-gyrating sirens who got the crowd dancing in the aisles, even if the image seemed somewhat at odds with the network’s oft-repeated theme of girl empowerment.
Nickelodeon will continue expanding the brands through recreation and on-the-ground activations, said Zarghami. In addition to adding more high-end family resorts around the world and additional tour dates for its preschool PAW Patrol Live! tour, Nick announced Nickelodeon SlimeFest, a multi-day family festival coming next year with music, activities and fun that promises “performances by top recording artists, immersive one-of-a-kind experiences, Nickelodeon stars and characters, and plenty of the network’s signature green slime.” No specifics, including talent and venue, have been set yet.