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Pop Culture

Nickelodeon May Be Old School, But This Middle-Aged Network Is Still Going Strong

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In today's high-tech world, children spend more time with digital devices than ever before. Although drones are used in professional realms to conduct surveillance, ensure speedy package delivery, and tackle various construction tasks with accuracy, they're also used by young people to capture incredible images and to impress their friends -- which isn't so different from other flying toys, when you really think about it. And of course, a love of digital media among children isn't anything new, either. Although two-thirds of parents worry their children spend too much time on electronic devices (kids spend more than 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen), the concern has merely evolved over time. Years ago, parents would worry about the television hurting their kids' eyes; now, those pocket-sized computers might hurt their mental health.

Ultimately, it's really just a case of "everything old is new again," and no company knows that more than Nickelodeon. Millennials will remember Nick programming with fondness, from sketch shows like "Keenan and Kel" and "All That" to beloved cartoons like "Rugrats," "Doug," and "Spongebob Squarepants." And then, of course, there were the iconic game shows like "Family Double Dare," "The Legends of the Hidden Temple," and "GUTS." But while those titles might elicit feelings of immense nostalgia for those in their late 20s and early 30s, the reality is that Nickelodeon is still around -- and isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, the network has certainly evolved over the years. It's had to, considering how much audiences have changed. As Nickelodeon Group president Brian Robbins told Variety, "There’s no doubt kids are consuming a ton of content in many different ways. The good news is we live in a world where brands still matter, and Nick is absolutely a giant brand that still matters."

The truth is that ratings have been on the decline for both Nick and its competitors. In fact, the network's ratings dropped by 29% in total viewers last year. But Robbins is quick to add that Nickelodeon still has "the largest share of television eyeballs for kids [aged] two to 11." Still, the network is branching out into movies, including Netflix exclusives, and digital content on social media and YouTube to ensure they're still able to compete. At the same time, Nick executives are careful to keep the channel's creator-driven culture and spirit -- the one that was so indicative of the programming that made the network famous during the 1990s. Subsequently, the company is exploring hopping on the reboot bandwagon, so viewers will likely see new versions of "All That," "Rugrats," and "Blue's Clues" in the near future. And then, of course, there's the "Double Dare Live" tour that recently re-emerged, allowing beloved host Marc Summers to once again travel around the country to allow families to compete for prizes -- just like the original series.

Some of the approaches have shifted, of course. For example, Nick now lets parents in on the joke, a change that's reflective of millennial parents' closeness to their children. Since generational co-viewing is at a 10-year high, with 44% of children viewing TV programs with an adult during 2018, the network's programming can't all be like the old days where "Ren and Stimpy" ruled. But clearly, the company is (and always has been) forward-thinking -- and yet isn't likely to completely let go of the past.

"When I first came here," Robbins noted to Variety, "This was a very exciting place, very free creatively and it wasn’t a very structured environment. Like any company, as you grow things change over time. I want to get back to that company where we were looser and not scared and making big, bold decisions based on creative choices."