‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ to return to as TV movie

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NEW YORK —

When Viacom’s Nickelodeon sketches its future for advertisers Wednesday, one of the elements it will touch upon will be its past.

As part of a presentation to promote its next slate of programs, the kids media empire will unveil a live-action TV movie inspired by its mid-1990s game show “Legends of the Hidden Temple.”

The network will also unveil a two-part TV movie based on “Hey Arnold!” one of its best known animated series that aired from 1996 to 2004.

In “Hidden Temple,” three siblings must conquer a series of obstacles to remain alive, mirroring the theme of the original game show.

The TV movie, slated to appear in the fourth quarter of 2016, will nod to other elements of the original show, including Olmec, a talking head who knows the secrets behind the temple; The Steps of Knowledge, the entrance to the temple and launching pad for the mission.

Isabela Moner, known for her role on Nick’s “100 Things To Do Before High School,” will star. The “Arnold” movies are slated to appear in 2017.

The company will also talk up a slate that includes what its top executive calls “happy reality” programs, like “All In,” an adventure docu-series led by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and “Crashletes,” a half-hour series that will feature viral sports clips.

The programs downplay mean-spirited competition for showing people having fun.

“There’s a tremendous amount of attention on kids these days. What that says is there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity — not unlike what is going on in the grownup space,” said Cyma Zarghami, president of Viacom’s cable networks aimed at kids and families.

“There is just more content everywhere.”

Many adults are relying on Nickelodeon’s kiddie fare.

Viacom has been under intense pressure in recent months, as several of its flagship networks like MTV and Comedy Central grapple with viewership declines and investors question the strategy pursued by the corporation’s management.

At Nickelodeon, however, ratings have improved. The network has seen its audience between the ages of 2 and 11 rise 4 percent in the first quarter of the year, according to analysis from Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger, while Nick Jr.’s audience in that demographic has risen 57 percent.

In doing so, the analyst said, the networks have taken share from competitors.

Even so, Nickelodeon’s subscriber base and ad revenue shrank somewhat in both 2015 and 2016, according to data from market-research firm SNL Kagan, even as the subscriber fees it gains from distributors rose in both years.

“The company is under a lot of scrutiny, but I don’t think Nickelodeon is under any scrutiny at all,” Zarghami said. “We have done a tremendous amount of work to build our ecosystem.”

Nickelodeon is in a different position than it was last year at this time when Time Warner’s Cartoon Network was making rating strides.

Zarghami’s networks will contend with media outlets owned by Walt Disney, Time Warner, and NBCUniversal for approximately $800 million in advance commitments from advertisers as part of a process known as the “upfront” market when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season.

The task has grown more complicated for kids’ outlets in recent years, as the rising generation of young viewers sees little distinction between watching Nick series like “Bubble Guppies” on-demand and watching them on the network that launched it.

To lure those viewers, Zarghami and her executive team have put more focus on creating content – and not just for TV. “Game Shakers,” a series that debuted in 2015 centers on two young female entrepreneurs who devise apps, and makes their fictional creations available for real-life download via iTunes and other venues.

The Nick and Nick Jr. apps have been downloaded on to 27 million devices, the company said, and Nick digital properties get 100 million views per month from kids.

Zarghami cites the pre-school audience as a primary factor in Nick’s recent ratings wins. “The pre-school audience does a tremendous amount of work to lift the 2-to-11 audience,” she said.

“Alvinnn,” a new take on “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and perennial favorite “SpongeBob Squarepants” have helped attract an audience, but Zarghami also pointed to series including “Blaze and the Monster Machines,” “PAW Patrol” and “Henry Danger” as successes.

The recent emphasis on reviving old Nick favorites was born out of an idea from interns more than five years ago, she recounted. The interns thought the old programs would work well online, but Nick execs thought they might work well on TV, and put a block of the shows on Teen Nick at night.

As original fans of the 1990s fare adopted social media, she said, “interest in the Nick library was becoming louder and louder and louder.”

Now executives hope to revive select concepts that will charm older fans but also spark new interest from their children.

Zarghami declined to reveal more of Nickelodeon’s programming slate but hinted at a growing interesting in sports-themed programming and live events.

The goal, she said, is to turn viewers into fans, who want to keep talking about shows even after an episode ends. “Once you can convert a viewer into a fan, you can have an ongoing conversation with them,” she said.