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Viacom CEO: Netflix Content Is Not Hurting Nickelodeon Ratings

SpongeBob Squarepants
Courtesy of Nickelodeon

UPDATED: As the year progresses, the kids channel's ratings will improve, vows Philippe Dauman.

NEW YORK - Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said Thursday that his company is seeing no signs that the availability of Nickelodeon content on Netflix has driven the kids channel's recent ratings declines and vowed that ratings will improve this year.

Asked on Viacom's quarterly earnings conference call if Netflix was to blame for the viewership decline, which contributed to an advertising revenue decline in the final quarter of 2011, he said: "We don't think that the availability of the limited amount of Nick library content on Netflix…has had a significant impact."

Highlighting that the company gets data on streams, he said that the number of Netflix subscribers and Nickelodeon content streams were "pretty much the same" in the summer and the fall. "It certainly does not account for the ratings drop that we saw," Dauman said.

He once again blamed the drop on "some ratings systemic issues" at Nielsen, citing extensive set-top-box data that "does in no way reflect" the Nielsen data. However, he also said "I don't want to belabor it."

Instead, Dauman said that Nickelodeon will go after the new Nielsen sample. "As the year progresses, you will see improvements in Nickelodeon's ratings," he promised, adding that a lower proportion of the company's revenue will come from the network in the coming quarters than in the most recent quarter. Viacom has over the years repeatedly dealt with TV ratings challenges and always overcome them, Dauman emphasized, promising to use "all the weapons in our arsenal" to put Nickelodeon back on a growth track.

Ad revenue in the latest quarter declined 3 percent at Viacom, but would have grown when excluding the Nickelodeon challenges, according to Dauman.

Earlier on the conference call, Dauman had in his opening comments highlighted that Nickelodeon is still the top-rated kids network. And he said that live-action series premieres have done well this quarter, with iCarly attracting more than 4 million viewers with each its three episodes this quarter. House of Anubis is also climbing steadily, he said.

Beyond that, 
fresh SpongeBob SquarePants episodes are on the way as part of the rollout of 
500 episodes of fresh original programming this year, a third more than last year, Dauman said.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai