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Shiny New Nick

It may not have the novelty of a pineapple under the sea, but the West Coast creative campus of Nickelodeon would impress even SpongeBob SquarePants. The children’s cable network that is home to the yellow, porous denizen of the deep, “The Fairly OddParents,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and a number of live-action series, opened its new 200,000-square-foot building this month to consolidate more than 700 employees in a single location. On hand for the Jan. 11 ribbon cutting were Cyma Zarghami, president of the Nickelodeon Group; Robert Bakish, chief executive of the network’s parent company Viacom Inc.; and Shari Redstone, vice chair of the Viacom board and daughter of its largest shareholder owner, Sumner Redstone. Redstone read a quote from her father about the importance of great content and talent when he came to Burbank in 1998 for the opening of Nickelodeon’s first animation studio, located adjacent to the new building and a recent renovation project. The new facilities will allow Nickelodeon to continue attracting top talent and creating the characters and stories that power the Nickelodeon brand around the world, Redstone said. “It’s all about creating great content, having a home for talented people to do what they do best and embracing a culture of collaboration, support and innovation,” she added. The five-story building and 450-space multilevel parking structure connects to the other Nickelodeon buildings on the campus with a central courtyard. The interior is punctuated throughout by bright primary colors of yellow, blue, red and orange. Art installations can be found throughout. Studio representatives would not disclose the cost of the building. “The new campus is symbolic of Nick’s growth as a business, growth as a brand and growth as a creative entity,” Zarghami said in an interview with the Business Journal. “It is a bigger, more expansive, more contemporary reflection of who we are and where we’re going.” Viacom leases the buildings from Accord Interests, in Austin, Texas. Wanting to stay in Burbank where the company likes the building it has been in for nearly 20 years, executives decided to wait to be able to expand there rather than look at other locations, Zarghami said. “If we could not have gotten space here, we may have had to consider going elsewhere but luckily this became available so it’s going to feel more like a campus when it’s done and that’s exciting,” she added. The new building was built on the location of an old United Rentals equipment business that had been closed for several years. It also consolidates into a single location staff that had been in Santa Monica and Glendale. Nickelodeon maintains an office on the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood where it shoots live-action series “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn” and “The Thundermans.” Tony Havelka, president of Ameba TV, a digital children’s programming service based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, said that it’s a smart move by Nickelodeon to put its creative staff in a central location because having a spread-out team can be difficult to manage. Pixar Animation Studios, a subsidiary of Walt Disney Co., learned that lesson when it opened an office in Vancouver in 2010 only to close it three years later as it refocused operations at its Emeryville headquarters. Being in the Los Angeles region is a plus for Nickelodeon because this is where the talent is, Havelka added. “There is so much talent in that area, even if you are not working for them now, your buddy might be, and they are like, ‘We need another animator, we need another light person,’ and you’ll get the phone call,” he said. Creative construction Nickelodeon worked with DLR Group on the conceptual planning and Studios Architecture for the design of the new building, the exterior courtyard and all the interior spaces for the complex. The latter firm has done work for other animation companies, including the Cartoon Network building in downtown Burbank. McCormick Construction was the lead contractor on the facility’s core and shell as well as the parking structure. Each floor of the new building is color coded. Each floor, too, has blackboards on the walls on which the animation artists can write or draw what they wish using the chalk on nearby tables. Balconies overlook the courtyard and meeting spaces are spread throughout the building for the creative staff to collaborate. “It was about doing away with the big corner office,” said Ariana Urbont, a vice president of communications who took a group of journalists and photographers on a tour of the building prior to the ribbon-cutting. Other features include a screening room, three voice-over studios and an art gallery to display the artwork of the employees. Pantries on each floor allow for food service while the lobby contains Hoek and Stimpson, a café branded around Nickelodeon’s “Ren & Stimpy Show.” There is a music room, game room, gym and a Zen garden containing a statue of Stimpy. The courtyard is fully wired for audio visual equipment allowing it to double as a meeting space. Also, it will contain stone benches decorated with artwork and flagpoles with flags representing the shows that are in production, Urbont said. Butch Hartman, the creative mind of several Nickelodeon shows, including “The Fairly OddParents” and a new show “Bunsen is a Beast” starting this year, compared the new building to going from an old Toyota to a Mercedes-Benz. “I think my favorite part is the lobby with the cool café,” he said. “So now I don’t have to go to the 7-Eleven anymore.” A favorite part of the new building for David Steinberg, senior vice president of production, are the two “maker spaces” on the third and fourth floors. The older building had nothing similar to these rooms that allow employees to tinker around and try out ideas. The fourth-floor maker lab contains traditional animation supplies such as backlights, peg paper and a stop-motion camera. The third-floor space is filled with digital technology, software and a 3-D printer. “People can step out of whatever they do for a living every day and try something else,” Steinberg said. Local competitors Nickelodeon launched on cable in the late 1970s and became an ad-supported channel in 1984. Its target demographic is ages 8 to 17 while its Nick Jr. weekday daytime programming block is aimed at pre-schoolers. Over the years, the company has expanded into live-action shows, movies and as host of the Kids’ Choice Awards. With the media industry moving at lighting speed in terms of technological change, having its creative teams in one location allows Nick to move at lighting speed as well, said Zarghami, the group president. Previously, communication between multiple locations proved cumbersome, she said. “This will allow us both with the technology in here and all the people housed together to work much better,” Zarghami explained. Nickelodeon finished 2016 as the top kids’ network with an average daily viewership between ages 2 and 11 of 623,000, according to Nielsen Media Research. That compares with main competitors Disney Channel owned by Walt Disney Co. in Burbank with average viewership of 468,000 and Cartoon Network owned by Time Warner Inc. also in Burbank with an average of 368,000 in the same age range, Nielsen said. Additionally, the network has the No. 1 and No. 2 shows for children between ages 2 and 11 with “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “The Loud House.” “SpongeBob,” for instance, draws an audience of 984,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. Having such a leadership position feels good when other networks are figuring out where they are going to land in an industry going through such rapid change, Zarghami said. “That is a combination of unbelievable content, incredible marketing, brand loyalty that we have created over many years and an organization full of incredible people that want to do it,” she added. Indeed, even Havelka, of Ameba TV, admitted that where Nickelodeon goes, others follow. Ameba has borrowed ideas from Nickelodeon on the presentation of shows for children. “They are one of the big boats in the ocean and everyone else follows in the slipstream,” Havelka said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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