Taran Swan at Nickelodeon Latin America
Nickelodeon is a cable channel for kids 2-11 years old. It started out in the US in 1979. Nickelodeon produced cartoons, live action, comedy, drama, music, sports and game shows. In 1996 it was the most popular kid’s TV channel in the US. The international channels had their own names, but relied on US programs that were voiced over. The channels were launched by a team from corporate the company called the Nickelodeon International Swat Team. They would build the channel and transition it to local management. By 1998 Nickelodeon was in more than 30 countries.
While Taran Swan was the director of Business Development for Nickelodeon International, she had begun to look into opportunities in Latin America. But in 1993 when Swan first looked at Latin America the market seemed too volatile and Nickelodeon was more interested in Australia and Germany. Swan became the launch director for Germany where her team built the channel from scratch and turned it over to local management in 1995.
When Swan returned from Germany she turned again to Latin America. She found that the Cartoon Network and Fox Kids Network had already launched in Latin America. Swan felt that now was the time to enter before the market was saturated.
During the three years Swan spent with Nickelodeon International she had studied entry strategies for ten countries, but Latin America was her favorite. Viacom, the owner of Nickelodeon, needed to see a proven business plan from Swan to be convinced to enter the Latin America market. MTV Latin America was struggling and Viacom did not want to invest unless there were strong indicators that it would succeed.
Swan had to build the channel knowing she could lose funding at any time. She had to get distributors to give her time slots even though the channel did not exist. To save money, Swan shared infrastructure staff with MTV Latin America in Miami. She would not be able to hire anyone new without approval with the exception of her swat team.
Swan was worried that the staff at MTV was used to a very different brand and would have trouble with the kid’s channel. Managing this new team was difficult. Selling the channel was difficult because Swan could not compromise on the price or quality, but many distributors had a monopoly and negotiations were challenging.
The number of cable channels was increasing, there was a lack of accurate market data, and only 10% of the population had cable. This made selling to advertisers difficult. The team decided to launch two separate feeds to allow advertisers to target more local markets. Swan had to build the brand in a crowded market. A member of her team, Friedman, suggested spending a good deal of the advertisement budget through a kid party at Jornadas, the cable trade show. She also decided to do “Grow Down” workshops to build the brand.
Finally, in September 1996 Nickelodeon Latin America achieved its minimum distribution targets and Swan was awarded full corporate approval. Unlike Germany, Swan was asked to stay another two years. She was happy to stay and began to hire her team. She then went on to programming the channel. On December 20 1996, Nickelodeon Latin America launched a 24-hour channel in Spanish, Portuguese, and English that reached over 2 million subscribers in 16 countries.
Swan ran into a problem when advertising sales were slow. She decided that having the same sales people for MTV and Nickelodeon was not working. She reorganized the sales team, but the implementation was not smooth due to problems between the new managers. Swan was focused on the bottom line, mostly the business plan she had developed. She hired Rey del Valle from Federal Express to head the finance department.
Swan had built the channel and had hired new people to manage various parts of the team. There was some tension between managers. Some of managers were new to the industry, some were from MTV and others...
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