Viacom should pull the plug on SpongeBob

The media giant's dependence on the cartoon character is scary.

By Jonathan Berr May 4, 2012 11:48AM
Image: Watching television (© Frare/Davis Photography/Brand X/Corbis)When Viacom Inc. (VIA.B) renewed "SpongeBob SquarePants" for a ninth season last year, the media network's Nickelodeon channel called it "a testament to creator Stephen Hillenburg's vision, comedic sensibility and his dynamic, lovable characters."

What was left unsaid, however, is that this may be the last hurrah for the Bikini Bottom gang.

The iconic children's cartoon, which debuted 13 years ago, is long in the tooth. As the The Wall Street Journal recently noted, the average number of viewers ages 2 to 11 watching the show at any given time dropped 29% in the first quarter from a year earlier.

One reason is that Viacom got lazy and stuffed its schedule full of SpongeBob reruns, which the paper noted accounted for 31% of Nickelodeon's programming in 2011, up from 23% in 2007.

During Thursday's earnings conference call, CEO Philippe P. Dauman argued that Nickelodeon may be down but is far from out. He noted that "The Legend of Kora" attracted 4.5 million total viewers in its debut, the most of any Nickelodeon animated show in three years, and that new episodes of "SpongeBob" and other programs in the quarter should bolster ratings.

"Nickelodeon is poised to become bigger and better than ever and continues to be an important locomotive of our international and consumer products expansion," Dauman said.

Dauman also rejected the idea that Nickelodeon's ratings are down because more kids, like adults, are watching their favorite shows on demand or through a streaming service such as  Netflix (NFLX). 

Nickelodeon's problem is more basic than that: It got lazy. Viacom seemed to forget that nothing lasts forever. Even kids eventually grow tired of seeing the same thing over and over. The reason "Sesame Street" has lasted for more than four decades is that it has stayed relevant to today's kids and parents. "SpongeBob" seems to have missed that lesson.

"SpongeBob" was even blasted by the American Academy of Pediatrics for being a bad influence on children. It found in a study that kids were "significantly impaired in executive function immediately after watching just nine minutes of a popular fast-paced television show relative to after watching educational television or drawing." The AAP has no such reservations about "Sesame Street." Carroll Spinney, the actor behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, even addressed one of its conferences.

According to a website devoted to "SpongeBob," many fans felt the cartoon "jumped the shark" after the release of the movie based on the show in 2004. 

"Fans also began to turn away from the series, and online fan sites became deserted," according to spongebob.wikia.com. "Although the show is still criticized, some SpongeBob fans believe it could be making a comeback."

Obviously, whatever fan support it enjoys is not enough.

Viacom should have quit while it was ahead instead of trying to wring every last nickel out of a stale franchise like a . . . sponge.

Jonathan Berr recently bought "SpongeBob" soap for his 5-year-old son. He does not own shares of the listed companies.
211Comments
May 7, 2012 11:36AM
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I love spongebob and I'm 44 y.o. 

 

May 4, 2012 3:48PM
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Have you ever really sat and LISTENED to the dialogue in Spongebob?  It is freakin hilarious!!  Most of the time I'm laughing harder than my grandkids!  Yeah, there aren't many touchy-feely learn-good-lessons from Spongebob and his cronies, but come on - let's just Laugh once in a while, OK?  I hope Spongebob lives on and on....

 

Crabby patties rule!!!  hehehehe  ;)

May 7, 2012 12:01PM
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The early episodes of SpongBob were hilarious. They hit that magic area where the show was appealing to kids on one level, and to parents as a satirical social commentary. It was this formula that endured Looney Tunes for generations. But, like anything else, Nicolodean dumbed down SB, and when it lost its satirical edge, it wound up losing BOTH audiences. Too bad.

 

May 4, 2012 4:18PM
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Are you kidding?  You seriously can't see the lessons in SpongeBob?  Sure I hate my kids watching lots of TV but SpongeBob is one show I don't have to worry about.  Even the episode about swearing taught a lesson.  Every episode I've seen tells a life lesson in a cute, comical way that kids can relate too. It's not over complicated.  Don't litter, don't swear, treat your friends with respect, be creative, live to love life, be kind to your neighbor even if he is Squidward, and the list goes on and on.  SpongeBob is one of the sweetest characters on TV.  I'd rather have my kids watch SpongeBob sing silly songs, and flip crabby patties than the anorexic "tweens" on the Disney Channel's shows like Victorious and Wizards. 
May 7, 2012 11:20AM
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Why does EVERYTHING have to be educational. 

 

I've liked this cartoon before having kids, and my kids don't even like it yet because they're too small.  And, even if they don't like it I'll still watch it.  It's better than 99% of the crap on TV.  People need to get over themselves if they are that much against Spongebob.

May 7, 2012 6:16AM
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Nothing but love for the yellow sponge who lives under the sea in a pineapple, flipping crabby patties.....If it wasn't for him, me and the wife wouldn't ever get 30 minutes alone together from our five year old. Please keep them coming Nickelodeon!!!!
May 7, 2012 11:42AM
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Our grandkids wouldn't know what to do without Sponge Bob! I think it's one of the best and clever childrens programs out there.It even makes us laugh.Even though it's crazy we love him! Better than some of the other cartoons out there.
May 4, 2012 2:58PM
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Are you now or have you ever been a sponge?
May 7, 2012 11:36AM
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SpongeBob is fine. They should adjust the schedule for early morning play of the show, and maybe adjust the weekend schedule. All four of my children love the show and the range of age is 3 - 11. Some of the crap they play on Cartoon Network is definitely adult only material, and the only alternative for somewhat kid friendly is Disney. Disney also has times of playing more tween and teen material and my young sons could care less about these shows. I say keep SpongeBob and maybe make more shows like it.

 

May 7, 2012 5:21AM
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Faults in the above story. In no particular order:

     Idiot Blooper #1: The American Academy of Pediatrics FALSIFIED their information and an investigation is still underway. Bribes were most likeley involved if not, political reasons.

     Idiot Blooper #2:  No mention on how often Spongebob is streamed , downloaded, stolen via torrents, or purchased on DVD. The answer is very very very often... spongebob torrents run averages of 150 to 300 seeders and 200+ downloaders at any given time. Netflix has no public figures on streaming numbers that I could find but the series falls on the "Most Popular" tab all the time and we are watching one or two of the first 100 episodes available on netflix on a daily basis at our house because we can watch it when we want, pause it, and no nick commercials! As for dvds, Walmart only carries what sells at premium prices, everything else ends up in the $5.00 dump bin or gets sent back... guess what they have all over in the video section at anywhere from $10.00 to $60.00?

     Idiot Blooper #3: Sesame Street is bought and paid for by tax dollars, and the requirement that PBS continue so-called "educational programming". They are not concerned with ratings, just free money and pledge drives aimed at scaring the children who are watching into getting their parents to support PBS "or they will take off their favorite show". Yes I have witnessed stations threaten children with that in recent years, and I even stole my mom's sears card and called the number in tears because they threatened to kill the Mr. Rodgers show. It was a long time ago and I was only five or six at the time. 

     Idiot Blooper #4: Spongebob was cancelled before due to "poor ratings and general lack of interest" . A feature film was made as the LAST Spongebob story, and look what happened! Good grief it took in a lot of money! How long ago was that? 2004?!?!?! WOW..... So the show that was cancelled because it was no longer relevant was what? Renewed? For eight years?

     Idiot Blooper #5 To quote Wikipedia "Anyone can edit or write an article on Wikipedia". Oh wait, I just wrote that on the Wiki site. To quote anything Wiki as gospel is like saying the president never lies.

Spongebob Squarepants Movie 2 is coming soon.  Be prepared for this "Tired, irrelevant ,kids show" to be a big theater draw yet again.  Who EVER said that a cartoon was supposed to be "relevant" anyway? Looney Tunes? Tom and Jerry? Transformers? And how do you define the term Johnathon Berr? Probably got your job on MSN by applying at careerbuilder and used your degree-by-mail in nursing to get a job as a journalist.

     Especially since you just got your kid spongebob soap... oh the horror, the show is relevant to your kid and you attack it. Nice... I hope he kicks you in the mutts!

 

 

May 7, 2012 1:26PM
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GM fan:  the show is 30 minutes, isn't it?  Where did you get the 2 hours ?   What amuses me is the hypocrisy of some parents proudly restricting TV (so their kids just click click click on the video games instead).  do you the reason?   Okay, I'll tell you.  Because these are the parents who are click-clicking themselves on their little iphones while ignoring their kids. 
May 5, 2012 2:35AM
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My daughter is almost 6 and has been watching SB since she was 9 months old. I don't know if it's all the bright colors, the silly voices, or the music, but it can hold her attention better than anything else. She finds a lesson in every episode and she always tells me about it after. We actually have a discussion about it and then we relate it to a "real life" situation. She is academically advanced for her age, as indicated by testing, so I don't the the sponge has soaked up all of her brain cells ;)
May 7, 2012 10:32AM
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I watch it with my kids all the time and I grew up watching cartoons, now for an honest assesment. Back in the day Loony Toons and Tom and Jerry in hindsight is extremly violent, but we notice that as adults, as kids we thought it was funny! SpongeBob is a extremly enthusastic geeky guy, a kid at heart, and loves to go to work everyday! The humor in spongebob is extremly brilliant. So whats wrong with that? I have seen almost every episode and i have never seen anything negative about the show! Everything declines, but that doesn't mean that the Sponge has lost his shine!
May 4, 2012 3:17PM
May 7, 2012 12:42PM
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I agree with Tman95 the early episodes were much like Looney Tunes.  If you were a kid you watched for the kid stuff, and if you were an adult you watched and found the hiden humor.  Now its just dumb stuff even to kids.  Bring the old writers back and SpongeBob will stay a Big Hit. or Keep it the way it is and nobody will watch.
May 7, 2012 10:45AM
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Leave Spongebob alone.  There are bigger and more important things to worry about than the longevity of a kids show.  Spongebob is great entertainment.
May 4, 2012 3:46PM
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If it gets cancelled will that increase the value of my Sponge Bob lunch box?
May 4, 2012 9:41PM
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The mistake with Spongebob came when they changed his voice, then the writer made him do idiot things instead of innocent mistakes, then the person (new person) who draws the character changed his visible expressions ... sometimes a cartoon character can last ages but you have to keep what was endearing about it in the first place.. anyhow.. thats my 2 cents..
May 4, 2012 4:18PM
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I'm sorry but I totally disagree.  I love Sponge Bob as much as my Grandchildren and am guilty of watching it even when they aren't at my house.  I say keep Sponge Bob and get rid of total crap like Making Fiends. 
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