Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Nickelodeon to Host 'Nickelodeon Virtual Upfront Show: Bring Your Kids!' Event on Thursday, March 18

Nickelodeon Plans a Kids Upfront That Really Is For Children

Many kids love to watch TV, but have little desire to learn the intricacies of the business behind it. Nickelodeon aims to change that dynamic.

A lot has changed since the last time Nickelodeon held a standalone upfront event three years ago. The brand has a new president (Brian Robbins), a new ad sales chief (Jo Ann Ross) and is part of a new company (ViacomCBS).

But in an upfront season that is reverting to a normal cadence following last year’s pandemic-related upheaval, Nickelodeon has opted to return to the calendar, presenting its first upfront event since 2018.

The ViacomCBS kids-media giant will host a showcase on Thursday, March 18 at 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT, all part of the advertising-sales session known as TV’s “upfront” market.  The presentation, titled the Nickelodeon Virtual Upfront Show: Bring Your Kids!, aims to lure many of the advertising and media-buying executives Nickelodeon needs to fuel its operations. But it’s also something children can also enjoy.

“Everyone has been living in a virtual world for a year, so we wanted to do something different,” explains Brian Robbins, Nickelodeon’s president, to Variety in an interview. “We thought, ‘Why not do an upfront through the eyes of the audience, as opposed to the eyes of the partners?’ Since families are home together, and a lot of our partners have children, let’s make something that can be a co-viewing event.”

Nickelodeon said its Nickelodeon Virtual Upfront Show will “blow up the boundaries of a standard video conference.”

“We decided to blow up the idea of a video conference and, instead, create a piece that still conveys the information and data central to a business presentation,” Robbins told Adweek, “but infuses it with our talent and original animation in a narrative story that illustrates how we’re growing our reach … while still emphasizing all the new we have.”

Nickelodeon’s confab will feature both animation and live-action segments, Robbins says. A wide array of stars and characters from the company’s programs will explain to both kids and advertisers how the network plans to expand its reach and launch more original animation productions than at any other time in its four-decade-plus history The presentation will include a screening room with full episodes of Nickelodeon series as well as sneak peeks from new programs. It will also feature sweepstakes, photo ops and interactive meet-and-greets with Nickelodeon animators, artists, actors and characters.

The show will start out like a typical Zoom meeting, Robbins says, then “veer off into this Nickelodeon wonderland, and this virtual world.” The program is just half an hour — the length of a typical Nickelodeon episode of Dora the Explorer or Danger Force, says Robbins, but “without the commercials.” He likens the concept to “a little bit of Alice in Wonderland meets The Wizard of Oz.”

As Nickelodeon emphasizes in the event’s title, it is meant to be watched by both marketers and their kids. “We want to invite partners to preview our content through their kids’ eyes, so they see what their kids see, so they can firsthand understand the power of our characters if they don’t already,” said Robbins.

It will take “clients and their kids on an entertaining trip through Nick’s drive to expand its reach; power its franchises across platforms; and unleash its largest content slate to date--including more original animation productions than ever in its 40-plus year history--all for a co-viewing audience (So we mean it: Bring Your Kids!),” the network said.

The event is being dubbed "Nick Investor Day" by fans.

For years, the Nickelodeon event was the unofficial kickoff of upfront season in New York. This year, that slot went to the inaugural WarnerMedia Kids and Family Upfront presentation, which was held on Feb. 17.

This changed in 2019, following Robbins’ arrival. At that point, the brand chose to follow in the footsteps of its Viacom sibling networks and swap spectacle for smaller agency meetings. Instead, Nickelodeon kicked off its upfront business at the Toy Fair in New York, announcing its new programming slate at a presentation for toy clients “because the toy companies are among our biggest partners.”

During last year’s presentation, held just weeks before the pandemic began, Ross was slimed in one of her first public appearances as ViacomCBS ad sales chief.

Nickelodeon typically vies with WarnerMedia’s Cartoon Network and Disney’s suite of kids-focused cable properties as part of the “kids’ upfront,” during which the media companies hope to sell around $800 million in advance advertising commitments. In 2021, however, there’s significantly more at stake.

ViacomCBS is about to launch Paramount+, a streaming-video service built out of CBS All Access. WarnerMedia is expected to debut an ad-supported version of its HBO Max by June of this year, and has unveiled a new push to gather pre-school audiences and female viewers. And Disney is putting significantly more resources into its streaming outlets, which include Disney Plus and Hulu. Kids’ programming is seen by many executives as a “must-have” offering for which parents will maintain a subscription over several months, rather than opening and canceling depending on content options.

This year’s upfront takes place as the move towards streaming video is spurring new declines in traditional linear viewership. Nickelodeon saw its average audience between 6 and 11 fall by 36% in 2020, according to figures from Nielsen, while Cartoon Network’s viewership in that category was off by 37% and Disney Channel’s tumbled 34%. Nickelodeon’s flagship network remained the most watched by that pivotal young-viewer category, according to Nielsen, snaring an average audience of 145,000 of kids between 6 and 11, compared with 124,000 for Disney Channel and 64,000 for Cartoon Network.

With some of those trends in mind, TV companies are no longer just talking to advertisers about traditional TV. The Nickelodeon show will explain Nickelodeon’s contribution to Paramount Plus, says Robbins, and “how important kids’ content is to streaming.” Nickelodeon has already announced that Paramount Plus will feature a revival of the popular series iCarly, and serve as the home of Kamp Koral, a spin off of the popular SpongeBob SquarePants.

Originally published: Monday, February 22, 2021 at 19:32 GMT.

H/T: @NickSchedules, Anime Superhero Forum /@kanc, Broadcasting & Cable.

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