Kids upfront poised to wrap, up 3%-5%

Estimates put total volume at $850 million-$865 million

NEW YORK -- On the heels of the fastest-moving television upfront in recent memory, the bulk of the kids business has been locked in, with estimates putting total volume for this year's bazaar at $850 million-$865 million, a gain of 3%-5% from the 2009-10 haul.

Although bolstered by an improving economy and increased spending from primary endemics, the kids upfront was not nearly as robust as the general entertainment marketplace. All told, the major kid-centric networks saw CPM rates increase by 6% compared with last year's pricing, with Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite enjoying the biggest gains (8%-9%).

Nickelodeon closed out its business as the rest of the MTV Networks were finishing their 2010-11 upfront deals. Nick was boosted by its continued ratings success -- it closed out first-quarter 2010 tops in total day among ad-supported networks, averaging 2.3 million viewers and sweeping all major kiddie demographics -- and the fact that toys, games and movie spending has been on the rise since fall.

Turner's Cartoon Network and Disney XD reached the finish line Friday, with the former writing CPM increases of 5%-7%. Disney XD sources said the boy-targeted network had peeled dollars away from Cartoon, lifting its total volume 35% when compared with last year's upfront, its first under the XD banner.

Cartoon faces ratings challenges, though the channel has stopped much of the bleeding that characterized the past several quarters. During first-quarter 2010, it was up 1% in total day, averaging 1.1 million viewers, less than half of Nickelodeon's daily draw.

The sales staff also is pitching avails on Disney XD, which is challenging Cartoon for boys 6-14. SNL Kagan said that during Disney XD's first year of business, the network generated $80.8 million in ad revenue, less than a quarter of Cartoon's net haul of $338.1 million. Demos were similarly steady.

Although Disney XD has pitched itself as an alternative to Cartoon, it has a long way to go before it can boast the Turner network's reach. XD during the first quarter averaged 265,000 viewers in total day (up 4%), making it the 41st-most-watched channel on ad-supported cable. The Disney net continues to grow its core demos, with kids 6-14 improving 42% since a February 2009 relaunch. Kids 6-11 were up 20% during the first quarter to 98,000; by comparison, Cartoon dipped 6% in the demo but drew a much larger audience (358,000).

Cartoon experienced "strong demand ... for sought-after time periods, notably the 'hard 10' holiday season, pre-Easter and back-to-school," said David Levy, Turner Broadcasting System's president of sales, distribution and sports. "We saw a re-emergence of the toy category and broke new business in apparel and retail."

Levy added that the new Hall of Game awards show initiative (spring 2011) helped draw a good deal of new business to Cartoon.

Disney XD noted that toys, studios and packaged foods were up significantly, the latter category coming back after as much as $100 million was taken out of the 2009-10 market thanks to new FCC-mandated restrictions on food advertising. Among packaged-food brands, Campbell's line of healthier soups was a major contributor to Disney XD's upfront fortunes.

Because Disney Channel is not ad supported, the network does not compete in the kids upfront market; its sponsorship deals are negotiated throughout the year. Before the upfront season officially began, Disney Media already had lined up about $7 million in cross-platform deals in support of its summer movie extravaganza "Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam," securing support from Best Western and Sara Lee.

(Skewed toward an older tween audience, Disney Channel is a bigger player in primetime, closing out the first quarter with an average delivery of 2.4 million viewers, up 8% compared with the year-ago period and ranking second among all basic cable networks. Disney continues to dominate core demos, enjoying a seven-year winning streak among kids 6-11 and a comfortable lead over rivals in tweens 9-14.)

Newcomer the Hub still has business to attend to ahead of its Oct. 10 launch. This year marks the first upfront for the joint venture of Discovery Communications and toymaker Hasbro.
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