The following is an excerpt from the essay “Media Regulation and the International Expansion of Nickelodeon” written by Kati Lustyik, assistant professor of television-radio. The essay, co-written with Norma Pecora, professor of media arts and studies at Ohio University, was published in the “Journal of Children and Media” in February.
Children’s television has become one of the most crowded and competitive markets in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions, communication scholars have paid relatively little attention to either the growth or the international scope of children’s television. In the introduction to “Children, Young People and Media Globalisation,” Ulla Carlsson argued that the lack of scholarly research incorporating the “themes” of media globalization and children, is a “more or less virgin soil.” As she stated the problem: “Much has been written about, on the one hand, the globalization of the media, and on the other hand, young people and media, but seldom do these two discourses meet.”
It is our intent to bring these two discourses together by documenting children’s branded entertainment and its distribution in the global market, using Nickelodeon, a multimedia brand that has come to represent a lifestyle and a particular philosophy of entertainment that connects to young people around the world. Owned by Viacom, Nickelodeon is one of the “big three” — with Disney and Cartoon Network — media corporations that dominate the children’s global media marketplace. Nickelodeon programs such as “Rugrats,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Dora the
Explorer” are available today in close to 400 million households and in more than a 147 territories worldwide via 24-hour Nickelodeon channels or branded program blocks.
By the end of the 1990s, Nickelodeon was present throughout Asia via different regional feeds and a growing number of country-specific channels such as NickIndia. Nickelodeon International’s management team perceived Greater China as a “huge challenge” requiring even more “thought, resources and a comprehensive strategy” than any other markets in the world, and stated, “We want to be [in China], and we are figuring out ways to do so.” Viacom’s CEO, Redstone, described as a “global go-getter,” has been patient and resourceful by gradually extending its corporation’s reach toward the 370 million Chinese children and teenagers who were guarded from the direct reach of Western media. According to a New York Times article, Viacom’s “aggressive courting of Chinese youngsters” could pay off even if “a sliver of a demographic that now exceeds the population of the entire United States” is captured.
When the state-controlled China Central Television launched a dedicated children’s channel (Channel 14) in late 2003, Nickelodeon was finally able to establish a programming block with shows such as “CatDog” and “The Wild Thornberrys,” which became immediate “top-rating performers” among viewers in 120 million households. The co-operation contract with CCTC was seen as “the beginning of a long-term co-operation between two media giants,” and Viacom executives felt “extremely honored” to be among the first content partners. When SpongeBob SquarePants, already syndicated in 170 markets in 24 languages, finally debuted in China in late 2005, it “catapulted to the No. 1 position in China across all cartoon programs in just four weeks,” and interestingly, a large portion of its audience constituted not only kids but also young adults.
Kati Lustyik is an assistant professor of television-radio. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.