Sunday, October 07, 2018

Nickelodeon Making Big Gains in its Linear, Digital and Off-Line Footprint Across Northern, Central and Eastern Europe and Russia

Nickelodeon is making big gains as it expands its linear, digital and off-line footprint across Northern, Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. C21 Media's Gün Akyuz reports.


While Nickelodeon channels continue to top pay TV homes in the UK and US, the network is also a leading brand across Europe in the so-called NEE region: the Nordics, Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

Nickelodeon is now the number one network in each of those markets under the direction of Nickelodeon's Senior Vice President (SVP) and General Manager (GM) Alison Bakunowich, whose role expanded from overseeing the UK and Ireland about one year ago to include NEE.

Nickelodeon is the top commercial kids’ channel in Sweden, Denmark and Norway; the top kids’ pay TV channel in Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, and rising rapidly in Romania; and in Russia it’s the top pay TV channel for 4-17s.

Alison Bakunowich

What’s more, Bakunowich says linear TV growth is still underway in the CEE region, making it “a very interesting” market. In February, NickToons launched in Poland and a localised version of Nick Jr. launched in Slovenia in September. Local-language versions of the channel are already present in Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic, and its Slovenian launch makes both Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. available as localised channels in these countries.

According to figures supplied by Nickelodeon, in Poland, the group’s portfolio reaches around 10.5% of kids aged 4-12 daily, and both Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. are the top international channels in highest average viewing terms. In Hungary, its share has grown by 5% year-to-September, to reach an 18.5% daily share of 4-14s. In the Czech Republic, Nick is the fastest growing kids’ channel portfolio, up by 54% to 2017, while Nick Jr. claims the highest average time spent (125 minutes) across all kids’ channels, including free-to-air (FTA) channels. Nickelodeon was also the fastest growing kids’ portfolio in Romania, up 29% in 2018.

In the Nordics, Nickelodeon’s portfolio expanded with the launch of NickToons in February 2017. In Sweden, Nickelodeon has claimed the top spot for kids 6-11 among commercial channels since November 2016. Nick Jr. followed suit as top commercial kids channel among 3-7s since December 2017; and Nickelodeon’s performance in Denmark and Norway follows a similar trajectory.

European productions like Hunter Street help drive the channel’s drivers

Bakunowich oversees a NEE region of real variations in Nickelodeon’s presence and channel configuration as well as programming preferences in individual markets. “In some regions we have all three channels – Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. and NickToons – in others we just have Nick and Nick Jr.”

When it comes to the Nordic markets, she says: “The thing that’s most interesting is just how strong digital platforms are.” Nickelodeon’s Nordic digital pay platform partner Viaplay has generated more than one million downloads of its award-winning Nick Play app, in what is Europe’s most developed OTT region.

Bakunowich says Nickelodeon’s Nordics performance, as elsewhere, is about “the entire ecosystem. You can’t ignore the fact you’re on more platforms, but consumption is extremely high and that’s the business we’re in. It’s about getting people to consume our content and you do that on all the platforms available to you.”

It’s also a region where Nickelodeon now launches shows simultaneously on all platforms. “It’s still about having a hit show that your audience can find,” says the exec. “From that point of view, it hasn’t changed, it’s just become a bigger opportunity, let’s say.”

In fact, Bakunowich says: “For Viacom, we see controlling the right to ‘must-see’ IP as key to growth in the emerging on-demand TV ecosystem and it’s an area that Nickelodeon already has a strong pedigree and established pipeline.”

The region is also part of Nickelodeon’s global strategy to broaden its brand presence through live events and on the ground real-world experiences – an area Bakunowich flags as a big opportunity for the group. In Denmark, a Paw Patrol Live Tour in collaboration with platform operator YouSee last year attracted over 10,000 kids and it due to return this autumn. The Paw Patrol Live Tour will be extended to Sweden in Spring 2019.

In CEE, the group has held an annual Nickelodeon Day of Play in Poland since 2013 and in Hungary since 2017, where effectively the channel goes dark for two hours in favour of real-world play activities. In Russia, the channel goes dark for six hours. This year’s event in Poland in August included a live performance by local popstar Dawid Kwiatkowski and attracted 14,000 people. Romania launched its first such event this September.

Becca’s Bunch was acquired from Anglo-Irish outfit Jam Media for a global roll-out

Current schedule, acquisitions

All of Nickelodeon’s NEE markets rely on its US content pipeline, but European productions like Hunter Street (produced in conjunction with its Dutch counterpart, De Ludwigs) are also among the ratings drivers. The latest crop set to launch across the region includes Nick US-produced Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Top Wing, Knight Squad and Star Falls. But there’s also Becca’s Bunch, acquired from Anglo-Irish firm Jam Media for a global roll-out, and Bureau of Magical Things, from Australia’s Jonathan M Shiff Productions.

Bakunowich says Nickelodeon’s top-performing shows in the Nordics are similar to those in the UK and Ireland. Live-action shows are particularly popular, accounting for between 37% and 45% of Nickelodeon’s ratings in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, notably slightly older more aspirational ones like The Thundermans, Game Shakers and Henry Danger. Nick’s Euro production Hunter Street was another, topping Nick’s ratings in Sweden and coming second in Denmark. For Nick Jr, the drivers are Paw Patrol, Shimmer & Shine and Blaze & the Monster Machine, which accounted for 51% of ratings so far this year (January to September) in the Nordics.

Although Nickelodeon doesn’t have any local productions in the Nordics yet, Bakunowich says there are a lot of local connections with social media influencers feeding into additional content for digital platforms in the region.

In CEE markets, the premiere run of Hunter Street season two in Poland picked up a 13.5% share of 4-12s, a 161% increase on season one. Hungary’s top shows included The Loud House and The Thundermans. In Romania, it was Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn. Meanwhile, animation is the top content driver for Nickelodeon in Russia with shows like SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Fairly OddParents. But Bakunowich says live-action series like The Thundermans, Henry Danger and Hunter Street also do well.

Flagging up a unique feature of Nickelodeon’s Polish market, Bakunowich says: “We have a huge pipeline of telenovelas we make in Miami as part of the Nickelodeon Lat Am business and they work exceptionally well in Poland outside Spanish-speaking markets.” Shows include Chica Vampiro, Yo Soy Franky and the upcoming Vikki RPM this fall.

The Nick US pipeline includes Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Nickelodeon’s programming is as gender-neutral as it is about strong, positive role models for boys or girls, so “adventure, fun and drama are usually at the heart of our telenovelas,” says Bakunowich, noting that most of them attract a strong overall audience.

Referring to girls specifically, she continues: “We’ve always had a strong position on this whether it’s Nella The Princess Knight or even the new telenovela launching in Poland, Vicky RPM – she’s a female racing driver.

“There’s always been that twist on its head with Nickelodeon, even going back to iCarly, who’s basically a female business woman. Game Shakers, one of our current shows, is about two girls who invented a game and started a business. It marries that thing about challenging female stereotypes and also the entrepreneurship we see in kids today.”

Citing recent Nickelodeon research, which highlights that “being different is cool” for its core kids demo, Bakunowich says: “Being your real self and being celebrated for that is something we’ll just continue to do, whether it’s about gender or equality. It’s just a part of who kids are today and if we don’t reflect that we’re completely irrelevant.”

On the current awareness-raising around gender fluidity, she adds: “Kids today are looking at, and when we go out and talk to them they’re just so open and embracing. It gives me a lot of faith.”

Interesting developments are also coming out of Russia, where Nickelodeon has an established linear presence with Nickelodeon and Nick Jr., and a YouTube channel. In June and July this year, Nickelodeon increased its linear share of 4-17s by 6% over last year and its reach was up by 9%.

On the digital front, Nick is the top website among kids’ broadcasters, including public broadcasters, pulling in up to 1.5 million monthly visits, and it was one of the most popular among kids in Russia and CIS, in part thanks to its gaming content.

Its YouTube channel has also become a key part of Nickelodeon’s strategy in Russia, adds Bakunowich. It has generated one million subscribers over a fairly short period of time, and Nickelodeon and Nick Jr combined now attract over 80 million views per month.

US-produced CG toon Top Wing

Nick’s YouTube channel carries a selection of Nickelodeon’s half-hour longform shows. A big event, for instance, will be the launch of the first episode of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja, which will go out simultaneously on YouTube as well as linear in Russia, “as a way of getting that reach out to drive back awareness,” says Bakunowich.

Original production

A related development in the past year was the successful launch of its first local production, a competition format called Be a Blogger (8×10’) in November 2017. Each week local celebrities and popular bloggers showed kids how to create new blogs, with the winner becoming the host on Nickelodeon’s Russian YouTube channel in 2018. Following its success, the format was picked up by Nickelodeon Benelux.

The exec says Nickelodeon is “always looking” for new original production opportunities. “Russia has some great creative talent out there and we’re always looking for a good idea to come from anywhere. It may be that it’s just for Russia or it may be an idea that works anywhere. Hunter Street is one of my favourite examples. It was a local Dutch show, we thought it was a great script and decided to make an English-language version to show around the world. That’s absolutely the opportunity we have. We can make a local show or we can make a global show.”

She doesn’t rule out potentially coproducing animation with Russian partners either “if we find the right idea.”
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