Nickelodeon's UK and Ireland network is riding high on the back of a growing portfolio of international productions and digital initiatives, reports C21 Media.
Times couldn't be tougher for children's networks, but Nickelodeon UK and Ireland is in an enviable place just now. It is the number one kids' channel across its portfolio in the UK's cabsat TV universe among kids 4-15s, according to BARB, and has been for the past year, says Alison Bakunowich, General Manager, Nickelodeon UK & Ireland.
Bakunowich oversees a growing portfolio of Nickelodeon UK brands, targeting 4-15s, currently spanning Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. (including Nick Jr. Too), Nicktoons, Nick Play and digital apps. Recent additions include a Nick at Nite programming block on the 'big' Nickelodeon last June, serving the network’s older 11-15 demo. There are also a Nickelodeon-branded theme park, the Nickelodeon Store, consumer product lines and a growing a range of live events such as SLIMEFEST, which is returning for a second year for the October 2017 half-term.
Nickelodeon's success is underpinned by strong performances by a broader range of four or five live-action series, instead of the one or two previously, says Bakunowich. Topping that list is US superhero comedy series The Thundermans, Nickelodeon’s most-watched live-action show on the kids’ EPG. Other top attractions in 2016 included US shows like gaming series Game Shakers and superhero comedy Henry Danger.
Preschool service Nick Jr. is the network’s other driver, with hit show PAW Patrol topping the kids’ EPG with a 2.3% rating of 4-15s in all homes in 2016. Not only that, Paw Patrol was a key brand in helping grow the toy market that year, according to NPD Group findings.
London-based Nina Hahn, Nickelodeon International’s Senior Vice President (SVP) of international production and development, attributes Nickelodeon's continuing ability to attract audiences to its diversity of content and core brand values. This content mix ranges from returning brands like the evergreen SpongeBob SquarePants to newer shows such as The Thundermans.
“Our brand values come first,” says Hahn, listing authenticity, fun and funny, playfulness, aspiration and gender-neutrality as key Nickelodeon qualities. “These are all elements that are us and us only, I would add, because they’re very specific to the kind of content we make and how we make it, and what you get when you watch it. They’re values that define us very clearly from other broadcast experiences. And I think that’s a big piece of why people come here and a point of difference.”
Those values apply globally, whether it’s Nickelodeon UK, Nickelodeon US, Nickelodeon Germany or wherever, and they serve as a creative benchmark for how content is then accepted regionally, adds Hahn, who oversees all Nickelodeon coproduction partnerships outside of the US.
Bakunowich says the preschool demo represents Nick UK’s single biggest growth opportunity, thanks to the current baby boom and with preschool the biggest genre viewed on the kids’ EPG. The hope is that viewers’ connection with Nick Jr. leads to shows like SpongeBob on Nicktoons and Henry Danger on Nickelodeon.
“The audience is there, our content has never been stronger. There’s a real mix of a strong production industry in the UK – we have Paw Patrol, the number one property in the world, and the Paw Patrol tour coming is a huge opportunity for us,” she says.
But Bakunowich doesn’t underestimate the fast-changing kids’ market either. “It is constantly challenging and we’re constantly looking at what on our channels is working for different demos.” The network also suffered a recent setback with the departure of James Newton, VP of programming, in February. Nickelodeon is now looking to fill the post.
The network’s biggest challenge, however, remains that facing the rest of the industry: measuring total audience consumption across platforms. “We’re in that funny moment where we know they’re out there and it’s how to reflect that. That’s a global issue, as well a UK one,” says Hahn.
Even if a majority of kids are still watching linear TV, based on overnight ratings, “where and when kids – or anyone – consumes content has changed drastically,” says Bakunowich. “I’ve been at Nickelodeon nine years and it used to be DVDs and a website. Now it’s all of the different products, apps and streaming. We work closely with our partners, Sky and Virgin, on getting our content to our audience when and where they want it in the most appropriate way.”
Nick Jr. hopes to further boost its digital reach with the launch of the Nick Jr. app this summer. An older-skewing Nick Play app debuted in November 2015 and has almost one million installations to date. This February saw the launch of Nickelodeon’s first ever play-along app, SpongeMaster, based on trivia around SpongeBob SquarePants.
Nickelodeon’s content creation has evolved organically to cater for how and where kids consume content, explains Hahn. “This discussion of how kids are ingesting content, both in the UK and on all Nickelodeon channels, is really also about when you start the creation and the development process with the talent, animator or whoever it may be,” she says. “Part of the success of the shows we’re now seeing is that the integration process starts from seed to table.”
Take Game Shakers, a series involving two girls running a gaming company – a theme Hahn says lends itself seamlessly to both linear and digital.
Hahn says Nickelodeon’s brands are increasingly moving in multiple directions to stay ahead. “Nick is so perfectly positioned for that because from day one we’ve always made it our mandate to be everywhere kids are – whether that’s in shortform; longform; new launches; digital firsts and into linear; linear first then into digital; and starting something in a region and having a go everywhere. For us, those are all fantastic ways to play.”
Current schedule, children’s, acquisitions, original production
Although a majority of Nickelodeon line-up remains US-sourced, UK-made and internationally co-produced fare has grown across the network.
“Our goal is high volume, so with The Thundermans we’re almost at 100 [Nick hits iCarly and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have both surpassed 100 episodes],” says Bakunowich. “Kids love stripped shows and like that familiarity in the schedule. So when we launch we tend to launch two or three shows on big Nick, for example, but we also do seasonal four-week bursts of series like Ride or Hunter Street.”
In 2016, around 15 new live-action and animated titles (excluding events and movies) debuted across on the network, among them the coproduced Ride on Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, football show Nick Kicks on Nicktoons, Irish animation series The Day Henry Met… and the UK’s Digby Dragon on Nick Jr. Last year also saw UK shortform animation series Tinkershrimp & Dutch (5×5’) premiere digitally online on Nick.co.uk and Nicktoons.co.uk and on the Nick App.
Nick UK now enjoys the status of regional hub in Europe, as well as a UK filter, says Hahn, outlining Nickelodeon’s global production strategy. “The global group and the region in this case are working very closely on how we can add the UK filter to content that can be experienced by everybody,” she explains.
“So it isn’t necessarily about making a show just for the UK but figuring out content that has a new creative filter – because you have different talent, physicality and iconography here – and what we can do to make that work. Peppa Pig is a great example of the success of this, starting here and going back to the US and everywhere else.”
Upcoming preschool animated series Nella the Princess Knight is set to be another example. The 100% UK production, from Manchester-based Brown Bag Films, follows an unconventional eight-year-old princess and launched stateside in early February. It will debut on Nick Jr. in the UK in May 2017.
Nick at Nite’s live-action series Ride (20×30’) was its big launch last November, airing stripped on weekdays at 19.00. The Canadian/UK copro is from Toronto’s Breakthrough Entertainment and London-based Buccaneer Media and centres on a girl who joins a prestigious British riding academy boarding school. It was shot 60% in Canada and 40% on location in Northern Ireland. The show was Nickelodeon’s first non-US premiere of a global production, says Hahn, who oversaw the show’s development. Canada’s YTV premiered it last autumn, followed by a US launch on Nickelodeon this January.
“The last couple of years have seen a tremendous increase in innovative ways of working together, largely due to the recession, and we had to all figure out ways to work together,” says Hahn. This has led to a closer working relationship with Nick UK and the other Nick channels on “making content in interesting ways, accessing tax credits, finding interesting ways to shoot. We do a lot of internal partnering, a lot of interesting models that allow us to get content up and off its feet in non-traditional ways.”
One example of this thinking is comedy drama Hunter Street, produced with Nickelodeon Benelux. Set and produced in Amsterdam, it comprises Dutch- and English-language versions produced in quick succession using the same sets, scripts and crew, and with some cast members crossing between the Dutch and English rest-of-world shows. The series launches on Nickelodeon in the UK on Monday 24th April 2017.
Nickelodeon is likely to make more such shows, says Hahn, pointing to interesting developments in the older-skewing space. “Kids are accessing global content from everywhere, so to them it’s not bizarre to hear a character with an English or Dutch accent,” she says. “As recently as 10 years ago accents were flagged up as a ‘what is that?’ from our viewers, but now they accept it. So it’s about making great content that reflects the kids in the world they live in.”
However, back in the preschool space, reflecting local kids and languages remains vital, says Hahn. “All Nick content that’s not original to the UK is dubbed with a British actor’s voice. We do that everywhere, which is an important measure.”
Nella the Princess Knight and Hunter Street will both headline Nick co-parent Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN)’s sales catalogue at MipTV in April, overseen by Caroline Beaton, senior VP of international programme sales for the group. “Nella is already creating huge buzz and acclaim in the US following its debut,” says Beaton, adding that Hunter Street “walks the walk,” in terms of Nickelodeon quality and values.
Last year Nickelodeon added footballing show Nick Kicks to its Nicktoons line-up for the first time, via VIMN and fellow subsidiary Channel 5, which secured three-year rights to the English Football League. After debuting in February 2016, a second season of Nick Kicks began last August. The deal covers three seasons into 2017/18, amounting to more than 100 episodes.
Nick Kicks has maintained the network’s gender-neutral stance, fronted by male and female hosts Rachel and Roman, and is attracting viewers to classic Saturday morning appointment-to-view TV, thanks to cross-promotion on other Nick platforms, says Bakunowich.
“The interesting idea behind sports and Nick Kicks is it’s still one of the areas that people want to watch live. So it was a great place for us to get the most leverage out of what we do, and what we do best in that space,” says Hahn.
Sport is an area that Nickelodeon as a company is looking into more closely, adds Hahn. It already has KCS (Kids' Choice Sports) in the US, which has proved a hit, while “regionalising something sports-related that worked for the region was a great push for the brand and worked for local need.”
Nickelodeon’s branded live events are also growing. Already present in Blackpool with a theme park, Nickelodeon UK launched its first ever SlimeFest live event there last September.
Meanwhile, Nickelodeon’s live 2017 Kids’ Choice Awards event recently aired earlier this month, and a Paw Patrol live event tour is in the pipeline. Bakunowich says such events promote “lots more shared experiences, whether with your family or friends. Television is obviously the beating heart but it’s about the entertainment brand experience, and this stretches it.”
Growing hand in hand with its digital reach is Nickelodeon’s audience engagement via social media. Upholding Nickelodeon’s values in a less easily regulated online environment is an ongoing concern, but Bakunowich says: “It’s important to remember that our demo goes up to 15, and in terms of the content we produce, the environment is extremely positive and age-appropriate, and we obviously get involved in promoting internet safety and social responsibility.”
Moreover, being online allows Nickelodeon to offer more in-depth content around issues affecting its audience that might not be appropriate on air. Nike at Nite’s daily bulletin, The Scoop, taps the tween girl audience, their passion points and their interests, while being delivered in an age-appropriate and authentic way, says Bakunowich. Since The Scoop’s content has been posted on Facebook, daily engagement has leapt by almost 900%, as well as boosting Nickelodeon’s average daily reach on Facebook by 231% year-on-year, according to the network. The Scoop will be adding as-yet undisclosed new material this spring.
Hahn says Nickelodeon’s content strategy will continue to evolve across live-action, preschool, animation and TV movies. “It isn’t so much about, ‘Today we’re looking for a live-action idea.’ We look for creators who have a story to tell, whether they come from the UK, Israel, the US or wherever. It’s about how the brand can be your home to tell that story,” she says.
“We’re both reactive and proactive. People come and pitch to us and we also take a lot of initiative with various programmes that we already have, in order to get content,” she says, noting there’s no wrong door into Nick, and pitches accepted on a rolling basis.
Additional source: Wikipedia.
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