Nickelodeon’s Broadway Upfront Makes Pitch For TV’s Reach To Picky Child Viewers

Joan Marcus

Bookending its hour-long pitch to ad buyers with musical numbers from the hit Broadway adaptation of SpongeBob SquarePants, Nickelodeon leaned into the familiar and promised to open the content throttle.

“Despite increased competition and seismic change in the industry, Nickelodeon remains the No. 1 home to the biggest hits on TV,” said Cyma Zarghami, president of the Nickelodeon Group, from the Palace Theatre stage. “And it is important to note that the lion’s share of kids’ media consumption is, in fact, television.”

The 37-year-old Viacom network is under siege from other forms of entertainment but it remains the traditional kids programming leader, thanks to hits like PAW Patrol. Its share of viewers relative to direct competitors like Disney Channel and Cartoon Network gained 2% last year and is up 8% in the past three years, Zarghami said. Its overall share of the children’s viewing marketplace is 44%, she added, while it’s share of the kids ad marketplace is 67%.

Even so, like all linear networks, Nickelodeon has seen some ratings attrition as its core viewership gravitates toward non-TV options, from SVOD services to YouTube to mobile offerings. As Viacom CEO Bob Bakish looked on from his orchestra seat, Zarghami and her exec team introduced a slate aimed at wowing viewers with volume. It offers more than 800 new episodes of new or returning series, a 20% increase from the previous year and up from 300 new episodes five years ago. “Our growth in share is directly tied to this robust content pipeline,” Zarghami said. Consistent with Bakish’s turnaround strategy across the company, the slate relies on a host of familiar names, with classics like Blue’s Clues and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles getting reboots.

Highlights in terms of audience reaction were a stage number from Lip Sync Battle Shorties, a kid-themed version of the breakout music show that airs on Paramount Network (formerly Spike). Previously announced feature film versions of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Dora the Explorer also drew pronounced oohs and ahhs. Guest turns onstage by Nick Cannon, who is hosting Shorties, and  John Cena, who is hosting the upcoming Kids’ Choice Awards and exec-producing new game show Keep It Spotless, went over well.

In all, it was a tightly paced, Day-Glo kickoff to TV’s annual upfront season, which will feature networks offering variations on the argument that television remains an oasis of stability.

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