y Meg James
October 11, 2012, 2:19 p.m.
The executive exodus continues at Nickelodeon.
On Thursday, the embattled children's network witnessed two more
departures of high-level executives: Paul Ward, a 22-year veteran of
MTV Networks and head of prime-time acquisitions, and Pete Danielsen,
executive vice president of programming. Danielsen, who has worked at
Nickelodeon for 12 years, was in charge of scheduling.
Both were based at Nickelodeon's New York headquarters.
Six weeks ago, the network pushed out its head of animation, Brown
Johnson, the Nickelodeon executive most responsible for creating the
hit "Dora the Explorer."
Nickelodeon is trying to engineer a high-stakes ratings turnaround.
Last season, the Viacom Inc.-owned children's network experienced a
28% drop in ratings among the key demographic of children ages 2 to
11. The staggering fall alarmed Wall Street, leading some financial
analysts to question whether Nickelodeon had the right management in
Ward had served as executive vice president of prime-time acquisitions
and strategy since 2008. He was part of the team that launched the TV
Land network in 1996, and more recently concentrated on the Nick at
Nite prime-time programming block, which is evolving from a model
based on network reruns, such as "Friends" and "George Lopez," to more
Nick at Nite drew an average 1.5 million viewers a night four years
ago, according to Nielsen. This year, an average of 892,000 viewers
are tuning in.
Nickelodeon is rolling out hundreds of hours of new programming,
including "See Dad Run," starring 1980s heartthrob Scott Baio, which
debuts Sunday. The network is getting a boost from its reboot of the
animated "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which drew nearly 4 million
viewers in its first outing. "Ninja Turtles" has improved
Nickelodeon's ratings among young viewers by more than 15% in the
Saturday morning time slot.
Viacom executives also are banking on an earnings injection from
"Ninja Turtle" merchandise sales.
Analysts believe that Nickelodeon's ratings stumble was caused by
several factors, including changes in viewing behavior accelerated by
the popularity of video streaming services such as Netflix. The
network also became overly reliant on the juggernaut property
"SpongeBob SquarePants," which has lost some of its zip. Others
suspect changes in the Nielsen ratings sample audience contributed to
the lower numbers.
Nickelodeon is bracing for more fallout. One of its signature shows,
"iCarly," is ending this fall after five years. And after three
seasons, another popular Nickelodeon program, "Victorious," is making
its final lap, which will leave more holes in the schedule.