With a presence in 156 countries, the Kids' Choice Awards is an international success story.When 8-year-old Bindi Irwin, the daughter of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, stepped onto the stage of Nickelodeon Australia's fourth annual Kids' Choice Awards in October, just a month after her father was killed by a heart-stopping stingray barb, it was, according to Steve Grieder, senior vp Nick International, "a national event," with the show making headlines in Australia and around the globe. "We felt extremely privileged that Bindi's first public appearance (since her father's memorial service) was on the Australian Kids' Choice Awards," Nickelodeon Australia gm Katrina Southon says. "The place erupted when she came onstage. She brought amazing energy to the show."
The Australian KCAs are just one example of how Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards concept -- kids voting for their favorites in film, television, music and sports, then celebrating them in a ceremony that's hip, loud and messy thanks to its all-too-popular sliming of unsuspecting celebrity guests -- speaks a universal language that easily traverses national borders. This cross-culturalism has seen the U.S. show, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, expand into seven international versions that are annual must-see TV events. Two more international editions, in the U.K. and Germany, are slated to debut this fall.
"Each year keeps getting bigger and bigger, with our audience, ratings, publicity and brand profile growing," Southon says of the show. "This is the only opportunity for kids to get up close and personal with their favorite stars. Nobody else is doing that kind of high-end event for kids in Australia. It's the most sought-after event within the kids' calendar."
The ceremony also has helped Nickelodeon expand its brand around the globe. With 34 international channels in 156 countries and territories, including Asia, Europe, Latin America and South America, nothing says "kids" like Nick.
"The Kids' Choice Awards enhance the Nickelodeon brand position globally," says Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids & Family Group. "They're increasing the brand value of Nickelodeon around the world and increasing the profitability of individual Nickelodeon channels around the world."
The fun started back in 1987, when the forerunner of the KCAs, "The Big Ballot," debuted on Nickelodeon as the result of the network's market research, which found that kids wanted some influence in the world of pop culture (a trend that has clearly taken off in recent years with user-generated content and reality-TV contests such as Fox's "American Idol" and ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," which allow viewers to vote for their favorites).
The growing success of the U.S. show, renamed the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in 1988, prompted Nick executives to pursue a global audience for the ceremony, and in 1994, the network aired the seventh Annual Kids' Choice Awards in the U.K. for the first time. The show established a toehold in overseas markets, and in 2006 the Kids' Choice Awards telecast was the No. 1 show on Nickelodeon Australia; when the same show aired in Germany, 1.1 million viewers tuned in, which translated into ratings 40%-50% above the channel average. Similarly, in Argentina, ratings were 25% higher than the channel average, and in Mexico they were a whopping 183% above the channel average.
"We've taken the Kids' Choice Awards overseas because it's a fantastic show and a celebration of the stars that kids love that has ratings value and brand value to us around the world," Zarghami says. "What it's done is trigger a lot of local versions of the show because fundamentally the simple idea of giving kids a show where they get to choose their favorites has caught fire in a lot of different markets. We're able to say to the marketplace that this is a show that's global and local at exactly the same time, which makes it a real asset."
Brazil's "Meus Premios" (My Prize) launched in September 2000, becoming the first version of the show to be produced in a foreign market. It has since evolved into a three-city roadshow that last year went to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre and was viewed by a live audience of 15,000.
For Nickelodeon Italy's first homegrown KCA ceremony, "Il Premio dei ragazzi" (The Kids' Prize), which took place in December, the channel surveyed 5,000 kids, ages 11-15, at 36 schools in 18 cities to get their choices on award categories, nominees and even on-air talent. An estimated 3,500 people attended the show in Milan, and some 300,000 kids voted for their favorites. "It's been a help for the whole growth of the channel, not just for the brand," says Raffaele Sangiovanni, Italy's vp for Nickelodeon and Paramount Comedy, of the Nick channel, which launched two and a half years ago. He says that following "Il Premio," brand awareness for the channel rose by 50%, and Italian parents, typically very protective of their children, gained a much better understanding of Nickelodeon's philosophy of involving kids.
Solid ratings and packed stadiums are testaments to the popularity of an award show that has featured prizes for the best burp and the best fart. And while the awards for bodily functions don't necessarily translate well in every country, the KCAs' trademark sliming -- considered the ceremony's highest honor -- does have universal appeal.
"When it comes to our green slime, kids are as ready to celebrate it in Beijing as they are anywhere else on the planet," Grieder says. "Kids are really kids everywhere." Bindi Irwin even asked that her mom get slimed when Bindi handed out the award for Fave Aussie to 2003 "Australian Idol" winner Guy Sebastian. Both Bindi and her mother were doused with green goo.
The decision to create local versions of the KCAs is left up to individual Nickelodeon channels, which usually produce their own programs, sometimes with support and expertise provided by the U.S. network and its international division. At the request of Nickelodeon China, for instance, the network sent veteran kids and teen program producer Tommy Lynch to Beijing to produce China's first show in 2005.
Grieder says that kids in foreign territories are even more excited about seeing celebrities from their own countries hand out awards during the local KCAs than they are about watching the U.S. show, which is either dubbed or adapted with local hosts, voice-overs and interstitials.
"The U.S. version of the show -- given how big it is and the Hollywood talent found in the show -- does have relevance around the world, so it pulls in (global) ratings, but when you do a local version, it trumps everything," Grieder says. "The secret to the Kids' Choice Awards is not so much a specific show from a specific market; it's the fact that giving kids the opportunity to vote for their favorites has relevance everywhere."
The KCA concept has been taken a few steps further in some countries, where kids not only have a say about who wins a KCA orange Blimp Award but about who gets nominated and who hosts, performs and presents awards. Additionally, many have their own award categories, such as China's Most Favorite Scientist and Australia's Fave Pash (best kiss), Fave Hottie and Fave Old Fart.
And top talent does line up to appear on overseas KCAs, much as American celebrities come out in support of the U.S. show. Last year, Italy's leading TV personality Fiorello, Brazilian band Charlie Brown Jr. and Australian TV and music star Sophie Monk appeared on their respective countries' KCAs.
"The Kids' Choice Awards is a manifestation of all the things we think the Nickelodeon brand is: kids in charge, nothing but fun, people showing respect to the kid audience, giving kids a voice and great comedy," Zarghami says. "That's why we love it. It's one of the times during the year that the Nickelodeon brand really comes to life."