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Broadcast makes a play for young viewers

Mar 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Perhaps more perilous than some of Buzz Lightyear’s animated adventures out in space, there’s an ever-growing black hole sucking out kids viewers from the broadcast universe and into the cable dimension-largely run by those pesky gremlins at Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
The six broadcast networks’ Saturday and Sunday morning kids lineups have suffered an overall 25 percent drop in the core children 2 to 11 demographic this season, posting a combined 3.0 rating/13 share average, according to Nielsen Media Research national data (NTI, Sept. 4, 2000-Feb. 25, 2001). On top of a 42 percent slide for the broadcasters’ weekday afternoon and morning lineups this season (averaging a 1.4/8 in kids 2 to 11), the overall seven-day menu of kids programming on broadcast is down 39 percent to a 1.7/10 in the key kids demo for the season to date.
Meanwhile, it’s those upstart, branded, full-service kids cable networks-Nickelodeon (4.0/21), Cartoon Network (1.6/7) and Disney Channel (1.2/6)-racking up average 20 percent increases in kids 2 to 11 across their seven-day rotations this season. Amid the double-digit yearly rating decreases for the broadcast networks, CBS’s replayed Nick Jr. lineup is the lone exception with 157 percent growth in kids 2 to 11 (1.8/9) and a 256 percent jump in kids 2 to 5 (3.2/15).
While the trend of broadcast erosion is somewhat in keeping with the adult migration in prime time to cable, the kids broadcast networks are still delivering the kind of mass appeal programs-such as “Pokemon” and “X-Men” on Kids’ WB, “Digimon” on Fox Kids Network and “Recess” on ABC-to rival their cable competitors. Armed with large multimillion-dollar production budgets, and actively seeking to identify the next merchandising and licensing hits, the broadcast players still have a few tricks up their sleeves to potentially bring kids back to the over-the-air side of the medium.
Kids’ WB: `Cubix’ to the rescue
More than 21/2 years ago, Kids’ WB found its cornerstone ratings engine in “Pokemon,” but the show has dropped nearly one-third of its viewership this season. Ash and his furry friends still hold the top-ranked Saturday morning positions in the TV universe in the core boys 6 to 11 (7.5/26) and boys 2 to 11 demos (6.1/21) despite slippage in those demos and others.
“Undoubtedly, there has been some decline in `Pokemon’s’ [rating] numbers, but it is still the No. 1 broadcast show in kids 2 to 11 and an incredibly strong franchise for this network,” said Donna Friedman, president of the Kids’ WB network. “The focus will continue to be on Ash and their core quest, but there will be a new title and 52 fresh episodes coming into the mix to refresh the show for next season.”
With Kids’ WB’s Saturday morning lineup down 25 percent this season in the broad kids 2 to 11 measure (3.0/13) and 28 percent in the coveted boys 6 to 11 demo (4.8/20), Ms. Friedman is far from standing pat and is looking at the immediate midseason to make some changes. Among a pair of midseason new series announcements Ms. Friedman has planned is “Cubix,” a computer-generated imaging series about robots that was one of the hottest merchandising properties to come out of last month’s Toy Fair in New York.
Ms. Friedman, who would not say whether she plans to launch “Cubix” in April or during the May sweeps, may be banking on the pedigree and backing behind the Japanese-made show. “Cubix” comes from 4Kids Entertainment, the same merchandising/licensing company that secured the U.S. rights to “Pokemon” for licensing to Kids’ WB a couple of seasons ago. As it did with “Pokemon,” Kids’ WB’s parent company, Warner Bros. Pictures, may be looking to fashion a broader relationship with 4Kids Entertainment to produce a “Cubix” motion picture tie-in if the series pans out in the ratings.
For next season, Kids’ WB is adding its first-ever live-action series and four new animated series for its Saturday and weekday schedules.
New series joining the 8 a.m. to noon (ET) Saturday schedule are “The Nightmare Room,” a live-action series based on R.L. Stine’s books about nightmarish tales becoming real-life occurrences; “The Mummy,” an animated series based on the hit Universal Pictures theatrical; and “Cubix,” a Japanese-made computer-generated animated series about a boy and his robot, from 4Kids Entertainment.
For the weekday morning (7 a.m. to 8 a.m.) rotation, Kids’ WB is adding “Rescue Heroes: Global Response Team,” an animated series from Nelvana Entertainment; and “Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century,” a proclaimed “FCC-friendly” series from DIC Entertainment and Scottish Television.
Fox Kids Network
Some questions in the ad-buying community linger on the future direction of Fox Kids Network in light of Saban Entertainment Chairman Haim Saban exercising his “put” option on selling his half-ownership stake in Fox Kids Worldwide Inc. back to Fox and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch. Although it has cast a shadow on Fox Kids Network’s ongoing operations, FKN President Maureen Smith is nonetheless pushing forward with an aggressive development slate of up to a half-dozen new series for midseason and next fall.
Of particular concern is whether FKN’s agreement with affiliates to roll back its weekday afternoon lineup an hour-from its long-standing 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) rotation to a 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. schedule-will be negatively impacted by lower kids PUT (people using television) levels in the earlier hour. Already, Kids’ WB’s Ms. Friedman suggested the earlier start is going to make her network “more of a dominant player” in the 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. time slot.
“Certainly, the number of available kids is lower, but the beauty of our ownership of Fox Family Channel [on cable] is that we’ll be still programming the 4 to 5 o’clock on network” with kids and transitional teen/adult programming, said Ms. Smith, who also serves as president of Fox Family Channel. “I’m not too consumed about the competition [from Kids’ WB].”
Ms. Smith may have a valid point: Kids’ WB’s current weekday lineup slipped 42 percent in kids 2 to 11 (1.4/8) and 49 percent in boys 6 to 11 (2.1/13) this year compared with last season. Fox Kids Network, giving in to requests by Fox affiliates to pull back from the 4 p.m. hour so they can program adult-oriented sitcoms and news, is down by a somewhat lower 21 percent in kids 2 to 11 (1.5/8) and 28 percent in kids 6 to 11 (2.1/12).
Still, some observers say Mr. Saban’s exercising of the “put” option could be a signal of a future pullback by Fox to get out of the Monday-through-Friday kids business in the near future. Once the investment firms and arbitrators determine the value of Mr. Saban’s half-ownership in FKN and Fox Family Channel, estimated at between $1 billion and $4 billion, there are still questions about how much News Corp. will want to sink into the broadcast and cable kids operations.
“I can understand the questions about our future direction, but I also want to stress that Fox is going after Monday through Friday and Saturdays aggressively, in tandem with Fox Family Channel,” Ms. Smith said. “The budget for development has improved over last year-and who knows how things will firm up once we’re wholly owned [by Fox]. All I can say is that Fox corporate has been extremely supportive. They have been extremely thrilled with the [rating] numbers for `Digimon,’ `Los Luchadores’ and `Power Rangers.”’
Indeed, the Latino-flavored “Los Luchadores” has posted 6.0/20 in boys 6 to 11 to quickly emerge as the third-ranked Saturday morning series behind Kids’ WB’s “Pokemon” (7.5/26) and Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” (6.4/23). The freshman addition joins sixth-ranked “Digimon: Digital Monsters” (5.6/21) and 28th-ranked “Power Rangers: Time Force” (3.7/22) as major staples of FKN’s Saturday morning schedule.
In fact, as some consolation, FKN has experienced the least year-to-year erosion on Saturday mornings among the kids broadcast networks this season. Among kids 2 to 11 (2.4/10) and boys 6 to 11 (4.1/17), FKN is down 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in sec
ond-ranking positions to Kids’ WB this season. Although ranked fourth in girls 2 to 11 (1.4/6) and girls 6 to 11 (1.5/7), FKN has improved in both categories year-to-year, by respective 8 percent and 15 percent margins.
Seeking to maintain some of that broadened appeal to girls, Ms. Smith is looking to have “Prank Attack,” a live-action show involving everyday kids who pull pranks on friends and family, ready as a special this month or in April to go out as a possible midseason entry. Another potential May or summer midseason entry is “Ripping Friends,” the first animated series John Kricafulsi, creator of Nickelodeon’s “Ren & Stimpy,” will have planted at FKN for an initial 13-episode run. Ms. Smith described it as a “superhero comedy about the most manly men protecting the world for manliness,” which would mean it will have a decidedly boys skew.
As for fall, Ms. Smith said the network is developing up to 11 series, with as many as three potentially making the cut for next fall. On the front burner is “Evolution,” an animated series designed to tie in with DreamWorks’ motion picture of same title to be released July 13.
Disney’s One Saturday Morning on ABC
Playing somewhat to its core strength in the girls demos, ABC is again turning to twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen to headline their first-ever animated series next fall. The untitled series will follow the exploits of the twin sisters, who will star in a different “mini-movie” each episode, as well as feature them in live-action wraparound segments.
Jonathan Barzilay, senior vice president and general manager of ABC’s children programming, suggested that the Olsen twins are not being specifically targeted to girl viewers, but rather fit in with the “relatively balanced gender composition” of its five-hour Disney’s One Saturday Morning block (airing 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.). However, with ABC’s morning schedule ranking first in the girls 2 to 11 (2.4/11) and girls 6 to 12 (2.5/12) demos, it appears that those would be groups most likely to migrate toward the new Olsen twins series. Despite its top-ranking positions in girls, ABC is also down 30 percent this season in both key demos.
Yet, with the Olsen twins reaching 14 years of age, Mr. Barzilay acknowledged their new animated series could play a part in broadening ABC’s demo appeal with older children and teens as well.
“The tween audience in the 9 to 14 years of age range is becoming increasingly important to broadcasters in terms of broadening out our demographic base,” Mr. Barzilay said. “We have had similar success in tweens with `Lloyd in Space,’ and hopefully Mary-Kate and Ashley will broaden our appeal in that demo.”