"SpongeBob SquarePants" continues to produce ratings but… (Nickelodeon / Nickelodeon )
Another influential programmer at Nickelodeon -- Margie Cohn -- is leaving the children's network as the operation struggles to remain relevant with pint-sized viewers who are watching content on different platforms.
Nickelodeon said Monday that Cohn, president of content development, as well as Alison Dexter, the Los Angeles-based executive vice president of production, were exiting the network immediately.
The shuffles come at a sensitive time for Nickelodeon, which recently made its sales pitch to advertisers looking to buy commercial time for the upcoming season. The children's market has become increasingly complex.
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Kids now consume entertainment on tablets, smartphones and laptops -- in addition to the TV. And the digital videorecorder, which gives viewers the ability to watch programs on a time-shifted basis and fast-forward through the commercials, has sent shockwaves through the industry.
The network, which has been a cultural force in children's programming for decades and a revenue engine for parent company Viacom Inc., has been locked in a spirited battle with longtime rival Disney Channel for TV ratings dominance. Nickelodeon has topped Disney Channel among its key demographic, children ages 2-11, during the past two fiscal quarters. In the first quarter of this year, Nickelodeon's ratings among kids bounced 7% compared with the previous period.
Still, Nickelodeon also finds itself competing with its own programming as reruns of "Spongebob SquarePants" have been a potent draw on the video streaming service Netflix.
Monday's sudden departures of Cohn and Dexter are the latest management moves under Cyma Zarghami, president of the Nickelodeon Group of channels.
After Nickelodeon's senior management came under fire last year by Wall Street analysts amid a dramatic ratings plunge, Zarghami began realigning the ranks by promoting managers viewed internally as loyal members of her team.
Cohn had been with Nickelodeon since the channel's early days, helping shepherd such shows as "SpongeBob," "iCarly," "Double Dare" and "Rugrats."
"Both Margie and Alison have made incredible and lasting contributions to Nickelodeon over the years, and I know you join me in wishing them both all the best," Zarghami wrote in an email to Nickelodeon staff announcing the news.
In August, another key programming executive, Brown Johnson, the Nickelodeon executive most responsible for the channel's bicultural hit "Dora the Explorer," was pushed out. Johnson was deeply involved with development of last year's CGI-animated reboot of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which has enjoyed success on Saturday mornings.
Two months later, two other ranking executives -- Paul Ward, head of prime-time acquisitions, and Pete Danielsen, executive vice president of programming -- suddenly stepped down.
Cohn's and Dexter's departures come eight months after Russell Hicks relocated to Los Angeles from the company's New York headquarters to take over as head of content development and production.
Neither Cohn nor Dexter will be replaced. Instead, those operations and staff will report to Hicks.
"Russell has been evaluating our needs and our structure to ensure we are well-positioned to succeed now and in the future," Zarghami said in the staff email. "He has injected new life and excitement into our animation studio, and has been developing new ways to attract the most creative people and give them the freedom to develop great content for all platforms."
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