NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - When Bindi Irwin, the daughter of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, stepped onto the stage of Nickelodeon Australia’s Kids’ Choice Awards in October, she made headlines around the globe.
It marked the 8-year-old’s first public appearance since the memorial service for her father, who was killed the month before by a heart-stopping stingray barb.
“The place erupted when she came onstage,” Nickelodeon Australia general manager Katrina Southon recalled. “She brought amazing energy to the show.”
The Australian KCAs are just one example of how Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards concept speaks a universal language: Kids vote for their favorites in film, television, music and sports, and then celebrate them in a ceremony that’s hip, loud and messy thanks to its all-too-popular sliming of unsuspecting celebrity guests.
This cross-culturalism has seen the U.S. show, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in Los Angeles on Saturday, expand into seven international versions that are annual must-see TV events. Two more international editions, in the U.K. and Germany, are slated to debut this fall.
The ceremony also has helped Nickelodeon expand its brand around the globe. With 34 international channels in 156 countries and territories, including Asia, Europe, Latin America and South America, nothing says “kids” like Nick.
The fun started back in 1987, when the forerunner of the KCAs, “The Big Ballot,” debuted on Nickelodeon as the result of the network’s market research, which found that kids wanted some influence in the world of pop culture (a trend that has clearly taken off in recent years with user-generated content and reality-TV contests such as Fox’s “American Idol” and ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” which allow viewers to vote for their favorites).
The growing success of the U.S. show, renamed the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards in 1988, prompted Nick executives to pursue a global audience for the ceremony, and in 1994, the network aired the seventh Annual Kids’ Choice Awards in the U.K. for the first time. The show established a toehold in overseas markets, and in 2006 the Kids’ Choice Awards telecast was the No. 1 show on Nickelodeon Australia; when the same show aired in Germany, 1.1 million viewers tuned in, which translated into ratings 40%-50% above the channel average. Similarly, in Argentina, ratings were 25% higher than the channel average, and in Mexico they were 183% better.
Brazil’s “Meus Premios” (My Prize) launched in September 2000, becoming the first version of the show to be produced in a foreign market. It has since evolved into a three-city roadshow that last year went to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre and was viewed by a live audience of 15,000.
For Nickelodeon Italy’s first homegrown KCA ceremony, “Il Premio dei ragazzi” (The Kids’ Prize), which took place in December, the channel surveyed 5,000 kids, ages 11-15, at 36 schools in 18 cities to get their choices on award categories, nominees and even on-air talent. An estimated 3,500 people attended the show in Milan, and some 300,000 kids voted for their favorites.
Solid ratings and packed stadiums are testaments to the popularity of an award show that has featured prizes for the best burp and the best fart. And while the awards for bodily functions don’t necessarily translate well in every country, the KCAs’ trademark sliming — considered the ceremony’s highest honor — does have universal appeal.
Bindi Irwin even asked that her mom get slimed when Bindi handed out the award for Fave Aussie to 2003 “Australian Idol” winner Guy Sebastian. Both Bindi and her mother were doused with green goo.
The decision to create local versions of the KCAs is left up to individual Nickelodeon channels, which usually produce their own programs, sometimes with support and expertise provided by the U.S. network and its international division.
“The U.S. version of the show — given how big it is and the Hollywood talent found in the show — does have relevance around the world, so it pulls in (global) ratings, but when you do a local version, it trumps everything,” said Steve Grieder, senior vp Nick International. “The secret to the Kids’ Choice Awards is not so much a specific show from a specific market; it’s the fact that giving kids the opportunity to vote for their favorites has relevance everywhere.”
The KCA concept has been taken a few steps further in some countries, where kids not only have a say about who wins a KCA orange Blimp Award but about who gets nominated and who hosts, performs and presents awards. Additionally, many have their own award categories, such as China’s Most Favorite Scientist and Australia’s Fave Pash (best kiss), Fave Hottie and Fave Old Fart.