The Nickelodeon network will introduce a series with football stars Cam Newton and Rob Gronkowski and broaden its mix of offerings as it deals with increased competition and changes in how children watch television programs.
Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback and reigning NFL MVP, will host "All In," a series where he will take kids on dream-fulfilling journeys. Gronkowski, of the New England Patriots, will be the face of "Crashletes," introducing popular clips of sports action. Nickelodeon presented its upcoming programming ideas to a meeting of advertisers on Wednesday.
Another new series, "Jagger Eaton's Mega Life," will follow the 15-year-old skateboard star as he meets people around the world. Nick is also looking to expand "The HALO Effect," a series that profiles young activists.
It's part of Nick's shift away from a heavy emphasis in animation to different formats, including a focus on real kids. One of the network's most popular new shows, "Paradise Run," is like a youthful version of "The Amazing Race," said Cyma Zarghami, Nickelodeon chief executive.
This has been a rough stretch for Nick. The network's average viewership of nearly 2.5 million people in early 2011 was cut almost in half to 1.3 million last year, with an accompanying loss in advertising revenue. Riding high with "SpongeBob SquarePants," ''Dora the Explorer" and "ICarly" at the beginning of the decade, Nick had little else when these shows began showing age.
At the same time, children migrated to tablets, smartphones and other ways to watch what they wanted when they wanted. Streaming services like Netflix have become a boon to parents, and they are increasing their production of family-oriented series. PBS also announced last month that it is launching a 24-hour network of kids' programming.
"Kids are growing up with a plethora of channels and outlets to choose from," said Billie Gold, vice president and director of program research at Carat USA.
Nick is making its programming available through various formats, and the network feels comfortable it has a full pipeline of shows for the first time in many years, Zarghami said. Whatever the means of distribution, it's most important to make shows people want to watch, she said.
"Hits are hits everywhere, and you can show a hit across multiple platforms and you'll find it floating to the top," she said.
The idea of broadening Nick to have programming of different forms in essence returns Nick to what it used to be, she said.
One advantage Nick may soon be able to press is that kids who grew up on the network are now nostalgic for it or are becoming parents themselves. A few years ago Nick began "The Splat," a block of nostalgia-based programming online and on TV geared to millennials - an idea that some of the network's interns developed five years ago.
"We couldn't be in a stronger position at this particular moment," Zarghami said.
Nick has shown an ever-so-slight uptick in its ratings this year so far. Still, there's no underestimating the challenge it faces in appealing to a demographic that considers streaming something on a tablet just as natural as sitting in front of a TV.
"It's a tough road ahead as young eyeballs will most definitely continue to migrate to other platforms on their own time schedule," Gold said. "Nickelodeon still has a very strong kids' brand and its future likes in its ability to reach these viewers across these various platforms."