So Far, Kids' TV Saved From Ad Hits

John O'Hara of Cartoon NetworkA serious weakening in the economy has not affected the crucial fourth-quarter kids' TV advertising business--yet.

"We haven't felt it in the fourth quarter," says John O'Hara, senior vice president and general manager of advertising sales for The Cartoon Network. "We netted out in a better position. One or two advertisers wanted to expand [their upfront buys]."

Dan Barnathan--president of 4Kids Entertainment Advertising Sales, the company that runs all kids' programming on Saturday morning for Fox and CW--hasn't seen many, if any, cuts to date either.

Industry leader Nickelodeon has not had a problem with any TV marketers asking for pullbacks, according to media executives. Nickelodeon representatives would not comment for this story.

Other kids' TV network executives, as well as kids' media-buying executives, agree that little has changed with regard to advertisers cutting back their ad schedules in the fourth quarter. Demand has held, despite the seismic gyrations of the stock market and the economy.



Shelley Hirsch, chief executive officer of Beacon Media Group, a kids' TV buyer, says none of his clients have asked for relief from the networks in pulling back media schedules.

As with the prime-time TV market and other dayparts in the fourth quarter, TV networks and other programmers typically have a rule concerning upfront business: Kids' TV advertising orders are firm and can't be changed.

But TV advertisers from time to time do ask to get out of deals, given severe economic or financial circumstances. Usually, networks-- looking to keep a business relationship healthy--will oblige.

In regard to the $800 million kids' upfront buying season, which occurs around the same time as the prime-time, daytime, late-night and other time-period sales in May, June, and July, almost half of all kids' dollars go into the fourth quarter--in particular, the crucial eight to 10 selling weeks before the holidays. In recent years, the ad push has been driven by toy manufacturers, movie companies and rapidly increasingly video game media dollars.

Although economic concerns are making many TV advertising executives nervous, they hope late scatter money will be added to their coffers. Cartoon Network's O'Hara expects that more retail, gaming, apparel, footwear and movie company money could be added.

"Some of those categories will drive demand," he noted. "We do have pockets of inventory. We are doing scatter deals at healthy increases."

Media-buying executives say last year's upfront may have been a little down, maybe $50 million--or flat--versus a year ago to the current level of $800 million.

Pricing in the fourth quarter for kids' TV programming was up about 5% higher than a year ago. But other periods--first, second and third 2009--were softer, flat or down a couple of percentage points versus a year ago.

One media buyer reports that kids' food TV advertising money is down this season, as well as toy companies. 4Kids Entertainment's Barnathan says it appears that apparel and retail advertisers are up slightly.

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