2011-12-08 22:44:57 UTC
By Tim Molloy | The Wrap – Thu, Dec 1, 2011 9:03 AM PST
Nickelodeon is down in the ratings, and in the dark about why.
After 16 years of dominating children's television, the network finds
itself in the midst of a mysterious ratings slide serious enough to
drive concerns about its parent company's stock and prompt an
investigation with Nielsen.
In just-released November ratings, Nickelodeon was down 19 percent
year-over-year in ratings for viewers age 2 and older. In October, its
ratings fell 13 percent.
Wall Street is paying attention: This week, one analyst downgraded his
rating on Viacom stock from buy to neutral and the other lowered his
target price slightly. Both cited Nickelodeon ratings declines.
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman calls the slide "inexplicable" and an
"aberration" -- but so far, a coordinated effort by the network and
Nielsen to find some glitch that might explain it has come up empty.
At least one Nick rival doesn't buy the idea that there's anything
wrong with the way Nielsen tracks childrens' ratings -- and poked fun
at Dauman's choice of words.
"We don't think there's a glitch in kids ratings," the Disney Channel
said in a statement to TheWrap. "The ratings strength of Disney
Channel and Disney XD is 'inexplicable' to some but we are very clear
on what's happening -- it's the popularity of our programming."
Could SpongeBob -- gulp -- just be getting old?
Also read: 'Spongebob's' Latest Tormentor: The American Academy of
It's definitely not a case of kids spending more time on their
homework: Preteen viewership is up overall. Through Nov. 20 of this TV
season, an average of 5.8 million children between age 2 and 11 are
watching television at any given minute, an increase of 1.7 percent
over last season, Nielsen says.
Nick's slide comes at a particularly bad time: The last three months
of the year are especially important to the network because of ads for
holiday films and toys.
The stakes are also high because no cable network earns higher total-
day ratings than Nick, whose closest rival is The Disney Channel. Both
benefit from young audiences with plenty of spare time during the day
-- and parents who use it as a plug-in babysitter.
Though it trails them in total-day viewing, the Cartoon Network is the
third-most-watched kids' network after Nick and the Disney Channel,
and has shared some of Nick's ratings woes. But in the latest monthly
ratings it seems to be digging itself out, while Nickelodeon's latest
numbers have only gotten worse.
Nick believes the problem could lie with Nielsen's sampling of its
audience, and has worked with the company behind the scenes to examine
"We've been doing this for 30 years, and we've been No. 1 for 16,
going on 17 years, with 2-to-11 year-olds. This is a short-term
problem," Nickelodeon spokesman Dan Martinsen told TheWrap. "The
bottom line is whatever has happened with the sample, this is what
we're working with now."
He said the network still expects to finish the year as the top
network among viewers age 2 to 11, and that the network plans 500 new
episodes in the next few months to increase ratings. Its new shows
include "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness."
"We're moving more aggressively," he said.
Dauman said in a Nov. 10 earnings call that Nick's ratings are usually
very predictable, and that set-top box data shows "meaningfully
different viewership trends" than those Nielsen has recorded.
But Nielsen stands by its numbers. In a statement, it said it has
worked with the network and the Media Rating Council, the industry's
independent auditing organization, on an "exhaustive assessment" of
"To date, the review process confirms that our measurement
methodology, operations and related reporting processes are working as
expected," it said.
Nick first noticed the drop in September. According to the latest
numbers, Nick fell to an average 0.75 rating over each entire day in
November, down from 0.91 in November of 2010. It reached about 1.4
million households this November, down from roughly 1.7 million in
November of last year.
The Disney Channel posted a 4 percent year-over-year ratings increase
in November, from 0.67 to 0.7. (Nick doesn't consider it a direct
competitor since it isn't ad-supported.) The Cartoon Network was flat
year-over-year in November, recovering somewhat from its own recent
In October, Nick dropped 13 percent in the ratings while Disney gained
5 percent and the Cartoon Network dropped 12 percent. In September,
Nick dropped 8 percent while Disney dropped 2 percent and Cartoon
Network fell 5 percent.
The slide isn't a case of other networks eating Nick's lunch -- not
all of it, anyway. Disney's small gains don't begin to account for
Nick's losses. Neither does the fast growth of The Hub, which grew 40
percent year-over-year in November. (That isn't as impressive as it
sounds when you consider that the growth reflects a ratings increase
from 0.05 to 0.07, as the number of daily households grew from 56,000
Disney's XD, meanwhile, has posted ratings gains of 8 percent in
October and 15 percent in November after a flat September. It climed
to 223,000 households in November, up from 205,000 year-over-year.
On Monday, analyst David Joyce of Miller Tabak and Co. cut his rating
on Viacom stock from "buy" to "neutral," citing the ratings pressure.
On Wednesday, Nomura Securities' Michael Nathanson lowered his price
target by $1, to $54 -- though he still rates the stock a "buy."
Viacom shares nonetheless climbed more than 5 percent Wednesday,
fueled by the market's overall surge, to end the month of November at
$44.76. At the end of August, three very volatile months ago, its
shares were at $48.24.
Dauman will likely face more questions about the ratings drop when he
speaks Monday at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in
New York City.
Nickelodeon and Nielsen have looked at a host of possible explanations
for the slide. Among them are whether Nielsen's sampling may have been
thrown off by Cablevision starting to require customers to begin using
converters for all TVs.
They have also looked into whether Nielsen has measured Nickelodeon's
Hispanic viewers accurately, and whether Nielsen may have replaced
cable households with non-cable homes.
But nothing in the data collection explains the ratings slide.
Some interesting schedule trends from the past few months include:
•The constant moving of preschool programming. Since Disney Channel re-
launched their preschool block to Disney Junior this February, Nick
has struggled to stay ahead. For years, Nick’s preschool series
usually stayed in the 9am-2pm (or 8:30am-2pm) timeslots for the
majority of the year (minus summer and holidays). However, this year,
Nick has been nixing and adding to it all the time. Sometimes it would
run from 9am-1pm or 9am-12pm, with SpongeBob chunks following it. But
in late October, they decided to shift the whole block to 7am-12pm.
Now starting next week, about a month after that change, they are
reversing everything to the way it once was: 9am-2pm. The numerous
preschool schedule changes certainly indicate Nick’s inability to
maintain those kid/mom numbers the way they once did.
•One of Nick’s biggest shows has also taken a drastic decrease over
the past month – iCarly. The show used to air 3-4 or more times per
weekday. Since the beginning of November, it has been reduced to one
or two days a week with 4-6 episode chunks, plus weekend airings at
varying times. That indicates that one of Nick’s strongest shows has
now taken such a decrease in repeat ratings that it can no longer
warrant regular weekday showings.
•Big Time Rush – Nick’s boy band with a TV show – has also taken a
nose dive in ratings this year. Since the summer, the show has
struggled to even get to 3 million total viewers for new episodes.
Repeats have also been greatly decreased over the past few months –
once airing everyday, the show is now reduced to a handful of times
per week (depending on the week, of course).
•Neither of Nick’s new live-action shows, Supah Ninjas and Bucket &
Skinner’s Epic Adventures, have been able to maintain good ratings.
Supah Ninjas peaked at 3.1 million viewers for its official premiere
in April, but has stayed well below that since. October premieres were
under 2 million an episode. Bucket & Skinner premiered over three days
in July to 1.5-1.8 million viewers an episode. The show peaked at 2.7
million viewers on July 15 after a SpongeBob special, but was given
two more big chances (after a VICTORiOUS special and iCarly special)
but neither scored much more. The last new episode that aired on
October 7 scored 1.7 million viewers and the show has since to air on
the main network. Even a spooky-themed episode for Halloween was
pulled without notice a few days before airing.
•Nickelodeon has also been very inconsistent with the 8pm hour on
weeknights (specifically Mondays through Thursdays). Nick gave the
hour to ***@Nite programming in July 2009, but has occasionally still
used it for special events (like Monday night premieres on holidays,
etc.). However, in October, Nick took the hour to air SpongeBob
repeats and later Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness repeats as
well. Then, starting this week, they’ve reversed it back to regular
***@Nite programming with My Wife and Kids in the hour.
Overall, Nickelodeon is well known for having the most inconsistent TV
schedule for any kid network. They usually change things multiple
times during the week, and week-to-week consistently is rare outside
of ***@Nite. But that isn’t really anything new. As long as I’ve been
collecting Nick’s schedule (since 2003), it’s regularly been that way.
Maybe now’s the time for some consistency?
Why do Disney Channel’s ratings even matter if they aren’t advertiser
Disney Channel is not advertiser supported like all the other kid
networks, aside from a few “brought to you by” spots for special
events, but networks (even advertiser-less ones) still want to get the
most money they can from carriage fees. That’s how much money each
cable or satellite company has to pay to carry a network. Top rated
networks have an easier advantage to getting higher carriage fees,
like ESPN (which I think is the most expensive cable network on
average). Therefore, even though the higher ratings don’t equal
advertising dollars for Disney Channel, they do likely equal higher
carriage fees rates. Plus, if they can hurt Nickelodeon’s ratings,
that’ll hurt Nick’s advertising profit – which is usually huge (about
a billion dollars each year).
What can Nickelodeon do to improve their ratings, if it isn’t an issue
on Nielsen’s part?
That’s a good question and one I’m sure Nickelodeon is racing to
figure out. If the problem doesn’t lie on Nielsen’s side, which
Nielsen says it doesn’t, then what’s Nick to do to try and win back
the viewers they are losing?
Those who regularly communicate with me on Twitter say they have
stopped watching Nick regularly when their favorite show isn’t being
played enough (iCarly or Big Time Rush are the common two I see). The
thing is, most of these people are likely outside Nick’s target
demographic range (ages 2-11 mainly), plus they are also likely not a
Nielsen household. If you’re not in a Nielsen household, then you do
no directly impact the ratings that we see. Ted Linhart, who’s a SVP
at USA Network, has a great FAQ article on this issue. While you may
not directly impact ratings, you could influence those who are in a
My only suggestion would be to improve the schedule – make it somewhat
consistent and report any schedule changes in plenty of time for TV
listings, DVRs, on-screen guides, etc. to update. Cartoon Network and
Disney Channel keep things pretty consistent and typically announce
changes in ample time (though they have their moments too – but much
fewer and far between).
Board: "iCarly" (2007): Nickelodeon's ratings drop while Disney
Board: "Victorious" (2010) : Nickelodeon's Ratings Drop -- and the
Meanest Thing the Disney Channel's Ever Said:
Board: "Wizards of Waverly Place" (2007) : OT: Nickelodeon's ratings
slip, Nickelodeon is freaking out
TWoP Forums › Other TV Shows › Cartoons and Kid Shows:
Looks like that “inexplicable drop” in Nickelodeon ratings from
September that Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman noted in a November 10
conference call with analysts still bedevils the children’s network.
Its full-day total audience was down 16.7% in the week of November 20.
That gave Disney Channel its first victory over Nickelodeon since
August 2007, when Disney introduced High School Musical 2. Nick’s
audience of kids 11 and under was off 11% in September vs the same
month last year, -17% in October, and -19% for the first three weeks
of November. The reports worried Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce
enough for him to downgrade Viacom to “neutral” from “buy.” He notes
that “advertisers are going to want to pay for the lower Nielsen
ratings, which could be resulting in make-goods … that could pressure
ad revenue” in the current quarter.
It’s curious, though: When Dauman spoke to analysts early this month,
he made it sound like the trouble at Nick was history: He called it “a
short-term phenomenon,” adding that “I always believe in looking
forward, so we’ll go through that blip, it’s not material to overall
company and we will move on.” He also put the blame on Nielsen’s
measurements — not Nick’s programming — noting that “independent set-
top box data … shows meaningfully different viewership trends.”
Nielsen has a different view. It says that its ”review process
confirms that our measurement methodology, operations and related
reporting processes are working as expected.” The Media Rating Council
is looking at the matter and will present its conclusions to the
companies next month.