Case Summary of Taran Swan at Nickelodeon Latin America
Taran Swan served as launch director and general manager of Nickelodeon Latin America. She had written the business plan, compiled a team and brought it through its first 18 months in the air. She unexpectedly had to return to New York and was faced with the decision of whether to appoint an interim leader in her place, and if so, who among her team members should she select? Origins of Nickelodeon Latin America
Nickelodeon is a cable channel for kids 2-11 years old, which included a variety of programming (live, action, drama), not just cartoons. Launched in the US, Nickelodeon (Nick) became the most popular kids’ television channel and expanded internationally. Each international Nickelodeon channel had its own on-air identity and slogan. The Latin America market did not look promising due to currency fluctuations and demographics. The channel looked elsewhere, and Swan helped launch the Germany channel in 1995 after replacing the ineffective launch director there, learning to make key decisions with minimal information. Soon after launch, they turned the channel over to local management. Competition had begun to enter kids’ media, including the Cartoon Network (1993) and Fox Kids Network (1993). Swan felt now was the time to make a move into Latin America before the market became saturated. Based on her performance in Germany, she was appointed launch director.
Swan liked Latin America because she saw an opportunity. Kids there only had the same old cartoon shows. She needed to prove her business plan was viable by securing a minimum distribution of 2 million households. Nickelodeon Latin America’s (the new venture) sister company MTV Latin America was doing poorly, so that wasn’t a good sign. But Swan’s plan called for sharing of resources with MTV Latin America, including personnel. Working Toward Corporate Approval
Nickelodeon people have “orange blood” (reflection of Nickelodeon’s color) so having MTV personnel was different because they weren’t used to the Nick-style. Also workers did not have an increase in pay for switching over, so incentives were low. Group was called International Swat Team.
Selling the Channel
MTV’s affiliate sales team was in charge of distributing the channel. Swan wanted the channel to be similar to Nick US in that there would be no compromise on quality and price. She also wanted the channel to be on the basic platform, not on a higher end one. Distributors were willing to put them there, but weren’t willing to pay for it.
Few barriers to entry in Latin America, so # of cable channels rising. No reliable data on ratings or market. Only 10% of the population had cable, which limited advertisers. The team decided to launch 2 separate feeds: Northern and Southern, to allow advertisers to target more localized markets.
Differentiating the Brand
Nick had a strong brand already. Nick’s identity was to connect with kids with their world through entertainment. Swan’s primary concerns were to capture attention and to differentiate the brand. As one of her first “big bets” (big risk, big reward ideas), she used Donna Friedman’s idea to have a huge, brand-experience party called Jornadas. Was a huge success.
Beginning to build her team
After party, infrastructure for the channel was put into place. Swan did a good job involving the different departments and allowed everyone to contribute ideas. Some people felt torn because of the MTV/Nick branding. Meanwhile, Swan started recruiting people in anticipating of corporate approval: -Valerie McCarty: looked to take on head of publicity and has int’l PR experience at TBS. Has energy and can communicate. -Stephen Grieder: looked to take over as executive producer (had same position with Asian music channel). -Donna Friedman: No specific role given to her, but she was enthusiastic (albeit single-minded). (Later, it turns out...
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