Disney, Nickelodeon Push Brands
Two big kids dominate the world playpen
October 3, 2008
The rivalry between Disney Channel and Nickelodeon has
gone global. The powerhouse kids' brands are
aggressively extending their presence and penetration in
both established and emerging international markets as
they vie for global supremacy. And because the kids'
universe is a complex blend of micro-demos that include
preschool, tweens and teens, both brands have enjoyed
considerable success, depending on the market and the
demo in question.
That's not to say, however, that smaller, independent
companies can't also play. They just have to watch out
for the big boys.
Rich Ross, prexy of Disney Channels Worldwide, says the
company's strength lies in the 6-14 demo. "That's where
we're No. 1 in most markets, pulling away." Disney
Channel remains strong in Latin America and is No. 1 or
2 across most of Europe, Ross adds.
But the world is a checkerboard of market penetration.
One company may dominate a territory but be weak in an
adjacent one. Observes Ross: "We can be No. 1 in (a
given) market but not have penetration in, say,
Germany," where the Disney Channel is broadcast on the
Premiere cable/satellite service, "or we'll be No. 2 to
a local player, like in France."
In general, he says, Disney's "biggest competitor is not
an international competitor; it's local competitors."
Ross adds the original plan in taking Disney Channel
international was not to focus "on the penetration but
on the strong business model. And what followed when
Anne (Sweeney) took it to basic cable in the States was
(the realization) that that had to happen everywhere. So
increasing our distribution around the world matters.
... If you have the right content, all of a sudden a lot
of people are watching your programming. And that's
what's happened in Europe."
Integrating with local markets has been key to Disney's
wide-ranging international success. "We have a team of
people locally who understand the Disney Channel and the
brand but who have the freedom to buy local product that
makes sense," Ross explains. "That combination of having
a strong global viewpoint and a local team is what has
made this work for us thus far," including markets in
Asia and Latin America.
Is there a place Ross would like to see improvement?
"The market I would like to do better in is India," he
says. "Otherwise I think we are quite strong everywhere,
Steve Grieder, sr. VP of the other global kidvid giant,
Nickelodeon Intl., agrees that paying attention to the
subtleties of local markets is vital, but he points out:
"Hit are hits. So the biggest shows here are likely to
be the biggest shows internationally. The fundamental
philosophy of Nickelodeon (is that) you've got to talk
to your audience and listen to what they want."
That has proved particularly successful in India, where
Nick launched in 2001 and languished. "We were No. 5 in
the market, facing new international competitors who
were spending millions on marketing to establish their
brands. Then over the last two years we put a team
together to determine what kind of brand we wanted to be
in India. Today, we are the No. 1 kids' channel in the
country, even against really strong local, smart
competition. We'll see how we sustain that, but it
speaks to what you can do with a content-rich brand if
you pay attention to a market."
Grieder adds that Nickelodeon has "spent the last three
years No. 1 as a network in the U.K., but the place that
is the most promising in terms of growth is Germany,"
where Nick launched a 24-hour channel in September 2005.
Nick has also launched on the Arabian peninsula and the
Gulf states, with a pan-Arabic team in Dubai.
Despite the very large footprints left by Disney and
Nickelodeon, smaller, independent companies have also
found success in the international kids' arena. Echo
Bridge Entertainment executive VP Dan March, who
licenses the teen drama franchise "Degrassi,"
acknowledges, "The preschool properties, the 4-8 brand
businesses, are dominated by the Nickelodeons and
Disneys of the world; there is less demand and less
windows for independents." But the playing field levels
out more in the older demographics, he adds, because
"Disney does not have a corner on the teen market."
March says that over the last couple of years, teen
blocks have become more of a focus for international
broadcasters as they have launched digital channels. As
a result, "The teen market is probably the
fastest-growing demo, giving independents more
opportunity, and we've benefited from that with 'Degrassi,'"
which is seen in more than 50 markets and which, says
March, "tackles subjects teens deal with on a day-to-day
basis that nobody else really addresses, whether that's
abortion or gay relationships. ... The family brands
would never touch that subject matter, especially in the
way 'Degrassi' does -- nor should they."
Kidvid purveyors can also ride on the leaders'
coattails. Jim Henson Co. prexy Peter Schube notes that
the international success of Nickelodeon and Disney is
good for his company because "they are strong partners
for us. They have broadcast operations around the world
that we look to put our content on, so the stronger
their platforms, the better position the programs on
that platform have."
Still, Schube acknowledges his company also competes
with Nick and Disney on the supplier side in that they
produce children's programming: "The Jim Henson brand is
very strong around the world. We spend a lot of time and
attention focusing on creativity and technical
innovation, and we think that's the hallmark that
distinguishes our programming."
Regardless of current successes, the kids' international
market will remain competitive, prompting Disney's Ross
to note, "We're constantly trying to grow our
penetration in any market we are in," such as adopting a
free-to-air model as was recently done in Spain, which
allows Disney Channel to reach more viewers and drive
advertising revenue. Irrespective of the distribution
platform employed, "We need to continue making the right
shows globally and locally, and aggressively market both
the shows themselves and the channels. There is no
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