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Upfront and Personal: Nickelodeon to boost content output by 20% YOY

Facing heightened competition from Netflix Inc. and YouTube, Nickelodeon/Nick At Nite (US) opened the upfront presentation season with a big commitment to new content.

Specifically, the Viacom Inc.-owned network said it will offer more than 800 new episodes of new and returning series, a 20% jump from last season and a major uptick from the 300 fresh installments it offered five years ago. The content infusion covers the gamut of pre-school fare, animation, live-action and digital entries.

"Despite increased competition and seismic change in the industry, Nickelodeon remains the No. 1 home to the biggest hits on TV," Cyma Zarghami, president of the Nickelodeon Group, said March 6 at the Manhattan event. "And it is important to note that the lion's share of kids' media consumption is, in fact, television."

Zarghami told the assembled media planners and buyers that Nickelodeon had increased its share of the kids TV market to 44% overall against Cartoon Network / Adult Swim (US) and Disney Channel (US) and 67% among ad-supported networks. While that represents a 2% gain from last year, Nick's ratings have been negatively impacted by the proliferation of kids content available on Netflix and mobile and digital offerings.

Among the live-action programs highlighted during the 50-minute presentation were the recently debuted comedy "Knight Squad," set at a magical school for knights in training, and "Keep it Spotless," a competition show executive-produced by wrestling superstar John Cena, where kids aim, among all things, to keep clean.

SNL ImageJohn Cena at Nickelodeon's upfront
Source: Nickelodeon

Cena, who will again host the "Kids Choice Awards" on March 24 and also supply the villain's voice in the network's new animated series "Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," was front and center at the upfront, appearing on stage in multiple bits.

Nick has also picked up a second season of "Lip Sync Battle Shorties," the competition series whose concept was borrowed from sister network Paramount Network (US). Nick Cannon returns as host, along with show sidekick, social media star JoJo Siwa. At the event, they introduced a group of diminutive MC Hammers, sporting baggy pants, who performed "U Can’t Touch This" to the delight of the audience that included Viacom CEO Bob Bakish.

On the animation front, Nick plans to air more than 200 episodes of returning hits, including more "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "The Loud House." "Pony," meanwhile, is the first animated series to be greenlit for the U.S. from Nickelodeon International. The show is a buddy comedy following Annie and her talking, unpredictable horse that lives in her family’s city apartment.

Digitally, "Musical Dares" is a new short-form series twist on musical chairs. Created and executive-produced by Cannon, the show is the first project by Viacom Digital Studios for the network’s YouTube channel.

The two projects, however, that elicited the strongest response from the audience were a pair of remakes. Teasing its return as something that would resonate with "millennial parents," Zarghami said the network is bringing back interactive series "Blue's Clues," including the titular puppy, flanked by new content and curriculum. Casting for a new live-action host begins this month, with production expected to commence this summer.

Zarghami also discussed a new partnership with IMAX Corp. to bring SlimeZone — the network's initial multiplayer, social virtual reality experience — to select IMAX VR Centres globally this month. On the augmented reality front, Nick announced a new format mode for its leading Sky Whale mobile gaming app, which garners some 2 million active monthly users and counts nearly 30 million downloads to date.

Further expanding its content outside the TV world, the network, in partnership with Live Nation Entertainment Inc., is also producing "Nickelodeon SlimeFest," a music festival for families that will be staged in Chicago on June 9 and 10.

At the event, Nick also highlighted its new brand campaign called "That’s Me," encouraging kids' drive to be honest and authentic individuals who celebrate differences and diversity. Spots celebrating history-making women and noting the brand’s longstanding legacy of strong female characters are on deck.