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Company: Nickelodeon, Goal: Consume through consumption

Everyone knows Nickelodeon isn’t just a TV network. The multi-national conglomerate has eased its way into every aspect of a child’s, and for that matter their parents, every day life. Nickelodeon’s brand is everywhere you look. From the snack food isle in the grocery store, books in bookstores,  gadgets in electronics stores, clothing and shoe stores, to the toys that overflow every chain and mom and pop toy store, and the list goes on forever. Nickelodeon wants you to spend your time watching their TV shows and movies, and spend your money on all their products.

Big Kids on The Block gives you a snapshot of the Nickelodeon company.

In the May/June 2011 issue of Retail Merchandiser, the article Catering To Kids interviews the head honcho, Mannuel Torres, of Nickelodeon’s Consumer Products. He stated,  “Putting kids first in everything we do is the overall philosophy at Nickelodeon, and it permeates everything that’s done in every division of the company. In the consumer products division, it’s out job to build the conversation between the great storytelling that takes place in our television shows and the products associated with those shows and characters that kids will want to buy”. The article also reports that Nickelodeon generated $5.5 billion in retail sales worldwide, despite the downfall the economy took in recent years. Torres’s remark was,  “When you’ve built a strong emotional connection with viewers, price becomes less of an issue”. As of now, it seems kids are concerned with only a few things: watching their favorite TV shows, and buying what ever displays their favorite TV show characters.

Nickelodeon is huge, but it continues to grow and expand. The article Kids Business Looks for Grown-Up Boot reports that the corporation is even widening their advertising market and increasing their spending. “Some on the sales side think the market could add several hundred million in new spending, topping the $1 billion mark for the first time. We think ’11 and ’12 is going to be Nickelodeon and Nick Toon’s best year ever,” says Jim Perry, executive VP, 360 Brand Sales, Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family group. Perry points to last year’s healthy kids upfront and scatter market that has been robust for five quarters, which prices currently 25% to 30% higher than they were in the upfront for inventory in some in-demand weeks.” (In this quote, “upfront market” refers to purchasing ads months in advance, where as “scatter market” refers to purchasing ads closer to air time. Upfront ads are less expensive than scatter ads. This quote is basically saying there is a lot of money being spent on advertising) The article also says Nickelodeon is increasing their advertising revenue by including markets such as insurance and travel industries. The clip below shows a commercial break on Nickelodeon that includes the usual suspects, toys and snack foods, but also includes an ad for Now kids will be nagging for expensive toys and elaborate vacations!

  •  Should companies, like Nickelodeon, be only concerned with making a profit off of parents and their children? Or do they have an obligation to societies welfare by not advertising directly to children and not trying to overtake every aspect of children’s lives with their products?
  •   Is this company at all concerned with creating a generation primarily focused on consuming and purchasing power? Are they at all concerned with creating well-educated, informed, socially responsible people?

Nickelodeon Products Plug On and In

Nickelodeon is moving into other digital realms combing with the company 2K Play to create video games based on pre-schooler’s favorite Nickelodeon TV characters like Team Umizoomi. Now youngsters are able to zone out to their favorite TV shows then plug in to their corresponding video games for hours on end. Another Nickelodeon TV series that has been transformed into a video game is Dora the Explorer with Dora and Kai-Lan’s Pet Shelter, rated “E”, which means suitable to be played by “E”veryone. The Umizoomi game is rated “EC”, suitable for “E”arly “C”hildhood years. Sherice Torres, Senior Vice President of Nickelodeon DVD, DTO, and video games, says the games “encourage active play and promote social and cognitive development”.

Really? This encourages active play and promotes social and cognitive development?

However, isn’t it common knowledge now that the last place a young child (or any child for that matter) should be is in front of a screen? As seen with the scandal surrounding products like Baby Einstein and My Baby Can Read, screen time can actually hinder brain development in young children. They benefit more from creative and imaginative playtime.

Despite these crucial revelations, Nickelodeon continues to expand further into other electronic domains. The “kids first” company is partnering with Toys R’ Us to develop a new line of gadgets based on the Nick tween show Victorious.  The line includes appliances “from digital video cameras and accessories, portable DVD players, microphones and clock radios, to MP3/MP4 players, CD players, boomboxes, and karaoke machines” designed to keep your youngster constantly plugged in and isolated.

No longer do the days of creative, imaginative play exist like when I was a kid playing endlessly outside climbing trees, bike riding, and the sort. Now kids don’t know what to do with themselves unless there is a screen in front of them.

Yet, Nickelodeon hasn’t stopped there. They continues to turn their young viewers into screen addicts by linking their network series with parallel websites where kids can further engage with their TV bff’s, like iCarly. Once on the website a child is bombarded with endless choices of things to read, watch, and do, mixed in with clever and covert forms of cross promotion including links to buy the latest tween hit single or a video of an upcoming movie. As I scanned through the website myself I found it somewhat hard to differentiate the advertisements from the actual web page material, I wonder how a kid navigates between the real activities and the promotional ones. Not only that, but the website itself was quite overwhelming to the eyes. There are an abundance of pictures, moving images, links, pages, and texts, I didn’t know what to do or where to go, no wonder its so easy to get hooked into.

“The value of this exact market hasn’t yet been tallied, but a 2005 report by Packaged Facts counted 29 million U.S. kids ages 8 to 14, with combined annual purchasing power of $40 billion. Nearly 90 percent of these children are now online, which means there’s a lot of money to be made by websites that can capture the kids attention and their impressionable eyeballs.”

Nickelodeon stands to make millions off young children’s eyeballs. According to IBIS World Reports the video game industry is due to make a collective $28 billion in 2011, and the television broadcasting industry will earn over $36 billion.  That’s painting a pretty wealthy picture for Nickelodeon and lets not forget about all the toys, electronics, apparel, and foods they are also producing.

It doesn’t seem as though Nickelodeon is matching up to it’s “kids first” image, but instead is cultivating a “kids first” market demographic to sell to. Even though most people (should) know that kids benefit most from person to person interactive playtime, Nickelodeon rejects that idea and pushes out products to keep kids plugged into a Nickelodeon electronic world.

  • Does the entertainment industry have an obligation to the public to let them know their “toys” may be harmful?
  • Why are parents continuing to buy these isolating and uneducating products?
  • Is there a way to steer kids away from screens?

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