Globally, Nickelodeon is the world’s most widely distributed children’s channel, reaching some 276 million homes in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Rim, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.
Television is just the tip of the Nickelodeon media iceberg. Nick is a true megabrand that encompasses five different television properties; an online presence that includes gaming sites, a virtual community where kids can create “NeoPets,” and a teen site; the movie production house Nickelodeon Movies; branded theme parks, resort hotels and themed cruise packages; a line of toys; and, until it was discontinued in June 2009, a print magazine.
Thirty years in the making, Nickelodeon started out as a cable television channel called Pinwheel. The name was changed in 1981, and soon after, Nickelodeon introduced its orange “splat” logo, now associated with every property in the Nick empire. The company recently announced that, by the end of 2009, it will have centralized and rebranded its entire portfolio under the single Nickelodeon brand name. For example, the US television channel Noggin, aimed at children under ten years old, will be renamed Nick Jr., and The N, a 24-hour teen network, will be renamed TeenNick. Nick.com will expand to become the hub for all of Nickelodeon’s digital properties and brands.
Owned by MTV, a division of Viacom, Nick has followed the Disney strategy of targeting not only children, but families as well. While Nick has been most successful with kids, it also appeals to the adult market through spin-off channels. Nick at Nite runs family comedies, and TV Land capitalizes on baby boomer nostalgia with reruns of such classic shows as Bonanza, Cheers and I Love Lucy.
Nick has mimicked the model of its archrival in another respect—by creating strongly branded characters. Movies and television, and more recently the Internet and video games, have become media launching pads for such Nick characters as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants. Nickelodeon marked the tenth anniversary of SpongeBob, an oddly disconcerting cartoon character that resembles a sponge, with a 50-hour weekend marathon in July 2009, including the showing of premiere episodes and a full-length movie.
Nick hasn’t missed out on the live child celebrity craze, either. Disney has the wildly popular Hannah Montana television and movie character, played by child star Miley Cyrus; Nick counters with iCarly, a TV program featuring youngsters who create a Web show. iCarly is basic cable television’s number-one show for kids ages two to 11.
The Disney-Nick rivalry has been nothing if not intriguing. Apparently, Disney chairman Michael Eisner “became so frustrated with the competitive advantage that Nickelodeon held over the Disney Channel among young cable viewers that he set about poaching a cadre of Nickelodeon executives…” (“Rivals Unafraid to Borrow, or Steal, From Each Other,” The New York Times, Feb. 24, 2009). But all’s fair in love and war. The tide has turned, and now Nick is reaping the benefits of one-time Disney employees. A recently introduced Nickelodeon animated series was sold to Nick by Jeffrey Katzenberg, former head of Disney Studios, and a series airing on Nick at Nite this summer was produced by none other than Michael Eisner, who currently works as an independent.
This back-and-forth battle of the brands is all about gaining a large television audience, of course, but it’s more than that. Both Nickelodeon and Disney know that viewer loyalty to an animated or live character, or a television series, translates into a committed consumer who will purchase, or influence the purchase of, many related branded products. That makes a young Nick or Disney enthusiast all the more valuable as a brand advocate.
The exact value of the Nickelodeon brand is kept close to the vest by Viacom, but revenues for Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite are thought to be around US$ 2 billion for 2008, according to research company SNL Kagan, as reported in The New York Times article referenced earlier. That’s an increase of more than 7 percent over the previous year, SNL Kagan says. This amount may not sound like much when compared to the US$ 16 billion in Disney media networks revenue; the Disney number, however, includes not just the Disney Channel, but the ABC and ESPN television networks as well.
The fact is Nickelodeon is as strong a competitor as Disney has ever had. At its 2009 “Upfront Presentation” to the advertising community, Nick announced the introduction of a new live-action feature film, plans to add seven new series to its program roster, and its single-brand global strategy. One of the prominent guests appearing at the event was Michael Eisner.
When it comes to challenging Disney’s domination, Nickelodeon is not kidding around.