Kidsnets Fall TV: Part One: YTV and Treehouse

Another new broadcasting season dawns this month, and as kidnets pull out all the stops to grab share with new shows, IDs and destination viewing opps, we take a look at the major programming strategies in play. This issue, in the first of a two-part series, we focus on the Corus family, and watch for deets on Teletoon, CBC and Family next issue of MIC.

Another new broadcasting season dawns this month, and as kidnets pull out all the stops to grab share with new shows, IDs and destination viewing opps, we take a look at the major programming strategies in play. This issue, in the first of a two-part series, we focus on the Corus family, and watch for deets on Teletoon, CBC and Family next issue of MIC.

Being a media buyer can’t be all that different from having the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song stuck in your head. It’s fun for a while, but then it gets a bit repetitive. How many times can something be replicated – in this case, buys onto Corus Entertainment platforms – before dropping onto the deck and flopping like a fish sounds like a good idea, just to break the monotony?

‘We’re invulnerable,’ quips Peter Moss, EVP of programming and development for Corus, under whose umbrella YTV, Treehouse TV and Discovery Kids operate. Corus’s premier kids channel YTV – boasting eight of the 10 top-ranked shows with kids two to 11 in fall 2003 (one of which was SpongeBob, incidentally) – has led the kids market for several years running. The net nabbed a 14% share of kids two to 11 at this time last year, according to the BBM people meter measurement. And preschool channel Treehouse TV had increased its average draw of two- to 11-year-olds by 29%, jumping up from third to become the second-most-watched Canadian kids channel with a 13.2% share.

‘The dominance of the Corus platforms makes them the only choice for kids advertisers,’ says Sunni Boot, president of Toronto-based media buying agency ZenithOptimedia. She says buyers had more selection for their clients’ dollars a decade ago, but since most networks cut way back on content for the under-12 set in the late ’90s, it’s cable or bust for kids buyers these days.

Teletoon – co-owned by Corus (40%), Astral Media (40%) and Cookie Jar Entertainment (20%) – is such an option. In fact, the animation destination made significant gains last fall over 2002, growing its share from 9.3% to 11.6% (a 26% increase) and moving up from fourth place to rank third behind YTV and Treehouse.

‘YTV is stronger against boys, and Teletoon is stronger against little kids,’ says Cindy Drown, VP and associate media director of Toronto’s Cossette Media. Teletoon has also made great strides with its teen/adult toons – particularly in late-night weekend block ‘Detour’ – and it gets plenty of ad support for this stream of programming. According to Carole Bonneau, the channel’s VP of programming, ‘Detour’ has helped Teletoon become the number-two English-language specialty net with teens 12 to 17 during the 9 p.m. to midnight time period.

Astral Media’s Family (which is pseudo-commercial because it offers promotional opportunities like contests, rather than flat-out ads) has great pull with the girls demo by virtue of its Disney shows, including Lizzie McGuire and That’s So Raven. In fact, fall ’03 data shows that the net aired 16 of the top 20 programs for girls two to 11 – clearly making it the place to be for kids advertisers intent on targeting the fairer sex.

If the TV platforms are clear-cut for buyers, their media programs are not – and that leaves room for interesting opportunities like promos. ‘Instead of trying to evaluate all your audiences, as you would with an adult buy, you know where you want to be in kids,’ says Drown. ‘You just have to decide what to do with the space.’

This year, that’s difficult to predict. Marketers are grappling with the public’s perception of kids advertising right now, and the issue is having the biggest impact on top-spending food marketers because of the spotlight on childhood obesity.

Cossette, which handled advertising for McDonald’s before a worldwide realignment cut the agency out of the fast-food chain’s media-buying circle, has noted that at least one of its current clients is paring down its kids advertising.

Uncertainty about the ad market’s future could be behind a season that’s best described as a hold-steady environment for the major broadcast players. While there’s plenty of new programming, none of the kidnets are coming out with mold-breaking blocks, and there isn’t one genre or target demo that seems to stand out as an obvious focus. The most significant move seems to be an emphasis on co-viewing, particularly at YTV. ZenithOptimedia’s Boot is optimistic about this move because advertisers are keen to tap into opportunities that draw in more than one demo, she says.

Here’s what’s new…

According to YTV’s fall 2003 Nielsen Media Research, 60% of all TV viewing by kids two to 11 happens with a parent present. So to facilitate more family viewing, the net’s ‘Three Hairy Thumbs Up’ Saturday movie block has been moved from afternoons to 8 p.m., when kids and parents are more likely to be watching TV together.

YTV is also using its weekday prime-time block to showcase live-action properties that fit the co-viewing mandate. 15/Love (26 x half hours, Marathon and Galafilm) is an edgy teen drama set at a tennis camp in Quebec. VP of programming Joanna Webb says it’s the kind of show older kids and parents will gravitate towards, much like the 44 eps of Gilmore Girls she’s acquired.

The net is relying on Shaftesbury Films’ Dark Oracle to grab a greater share of the older 10 to 17 demo. The 13 x half-hour show features a hybrid live-action/comic-style animation aesthetic and is about fraternal twins who find themselves trapped inside a cursed comic book. For a slightly younger demo – think nine to 14 – there’s Drake & Josh (20 x half hours, Nickelodeon), a sitcom about two boys with night-and-day personalities who are forced to get along as stepbrothers when they find out their parents are marrying.

To address its viewers’ yen for reality (and to stop them from migrating to terrestrial net Global), YTV is launching Spy Academy (13 x half hours, Chalk Media), a game show that goes along with three teams of kids on spy missions, while viewers participate online.

On the animation side of its schedule, YTV continues to maximize its Nickelodeon programming connection with the launch of Danny Phantom, starring a half-ghost/half-human ghoul-fighter in ninth grade. The 13 x half-hour show comes from the mind of Butch Hartman, the creator behind animated hit toon The Fairly Odd Parents.

In preschool news, Treehouse TV is all about being true to its audience’s voice this year – sometimes literally, as is the case with Farzzle’s World (26 x 15 minutes, My Dog Entertainment/Brown Bag Pictures), a 2D series in which the recorded voice of an actual two-year-old underscores the baby star’s point-of-view as he explores his sometimes surprising world.

On the live-action front, the channel is launching This is Daniel Cook, which will run in five-minute interstitials (65 eps) Monday to Friday and in 13 half-hour episodes over the weekend. The show, produced by marblemedia and Sinking Ship Productions, is hosted by a six-year-old who explores new situations from visiting a chocolatier to talking to firefighters, asking the kind of direct questions that are only dreamed up by first-graders along the way.

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* Story courtesy sister publication KidScreen Magazine, September 2004