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‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ stays in Kids’ WB fold

Jun 24, 2002  •  Post A Comment

“Yu-Gi-Oh!,” the hottest Japanese import since “Pokemon,” has closed a renewal with Kids’ WB, ensuring the programmer 39 more episodes of one of the most popular children’s shows around.
Representing perhaps the next billion-dollar kids series franchise, the renewal of “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” with growing U.S. licensing power for 4Kids Entertainment, fills the last major piece of Kids’ WB’s Saturday morning and weekday afternoon schedules. It also lays to rest to concerns in the lucrative toy markets about 4Kids being able to secure its top-rated platform on Kids’ WB to feed the growing “Yu-Gi-Oh!” merchandising juggernaut.
Given that the renewal talks stretched over a couple of months, Kids’ WB President Donna Friedman told Electronic Media that it was “one of the tougher negotiations,” but it was largely centered on the number of episodes and commitments to stripping “Yu-Gi-Oh!” on a six-day-a-week basis. At one point in the negotiations, some ad-buying sources were beginning to wonder if 4Kids Chairman and CEO Al Kahn was using his $25.6 million-per-year deal to lease Saturday morning time on Fox as a bargaining chip to get a more lucrative deal from Kids’ WB.
“Al has always been good for putting his word and commitment behind what’s best for the long-term viability of a kids property, but there may have been some alarm bells that went off at Kids’ WB when he agreed to lease out Saturday morning time slots on Fox,” said a New York-based merchandising executive.
“That’s so funny [the Fox Box rumors], because I don’t recall that ever coming up in our conversations,” said Ms. Friedman, who steered Kids’ WB to first place among kids’ broadcast networks for the third consecutive season last May.
“It really was a matter of communications and timing in working with 4Kids and the Japanese,” she added. “The reason we did not announce `Yu-Gi-Oh!’ at our pre-upfront presentations [last March] was simply because we did not start stripping it until April 1, and it was a matter of seeing how the show did in the ratings. By May, we knew we had a hit on our hands. Then we exercised our option, and it became of matter of hashing out the renewal.”
It could be that Kids’ WB and 4Kids were caught off-guard by “Yu-Gi-Oh!’s” sudden rise in the ratings, particularly when the network saw that the Monday through Friday stripping was driving even more kid and tween viewers toward its Saturday airings. The addition of the 3:30 p.m. (ET) weekday run built promotional steam even with nontypical tween and teen viewers, with the show’s 11 a.m. Saturday airings spiking from a 5.5 rating/22 share to an 8.9/34 among males 9 to 14 during the last three weeks of the May sweeps. When “Yu-Gi-Oh!” was moved to the higher PUT-level 11 a.m. slot on March 23, ratings among Kids’ WB’s core boys 6 to 11 demos spiked 87 percent from a 5.3/20 to a 9.5/34 (for the period ending May 18).
“This thing just got bigger faster than any of us anticipated,” Mr. Kahn said. “There are always a bunch of issues in terms of where [“Yu-Gi-Oh!”] is going to air, how many episodes are they are going to order and what kind of promotional time they are committing-things that always come up in negotiations. We have always made it clear that we wanted to get as much real estate as we can get, and it never became a question of us taking it to the Fox Box.”
According to sources close to both parties, Kids’ WB also holds a small participatory stake in “Yu-Gi-Oh!’s” lucrative ancillary merchandising sales revenue, similar to its small stake in the $15 billion of worldwide sales for 4Kids’ other licensing juggernaut, “Pokemon.” However, sources on both sides said that Kids’ WB was not holding out for a larger stake in “Yu-Gi-Oh!’s” ancillary revenue. Executives on both sides declined comment on other speculation about 4Kids extracting a slightly higher per-episode license fee for the anime series.
In the end, Mr. Kahn said Kids’ WB had a “pre-ordained price” on the renewal for Saturday and weekday airings, but he declined to specify if an escalator clause is attached to the per-episode license fees to be paid by the AOL Time Warner-owned network. Sources close to 4Kids said the New York-based independent had been jockeying for 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. weekday time slot commitments. Generally, the later afternoon airings provide higher PUT-level ratings from tween and teen viewers in the so-called “transitionary” time periods before early evening.
With the onset of summer, “Yu-Gi-Oh!” has moved to a 10:30 a.m. start on Saturdays, which Ms. Friedman said could be a higher PUT-level time slot berth for the show going into next fall. While Ms. Friedman said she will announce Kids’ WB’s Saturday schedules within the next several weeks, the timing of “Yu-Gi-Oh!’s” renewal also coincided with the network’s third-season order for Warner Bros. Animation’s “Static Shock” last week. “Static Shock” is leading all other competing 8:30 a.m. Saturday broadcast network series in the boys 6 to 11 demo (5.5 rating/22 share).
“When it came to setting the schedule, it came down to getting the best shows that garner the highest ratings and retention of the audience,” said Ms. Friedman, who said “Static Shock’s” pickup from a sister Warner Bros. division was also balanced by “Yu-Gi-Oh!’s” pickup from 4Kids last week. “Working with our sister divisions is important, but it does not overrule what we want-the best programming, no matter what outside source it comes from.”
The network also ordered 52 more episodes of “Pokemon,” which will be tied to a new April 2003 promotional campaign, that is intended to reinvigorate a “maturing” franchise, Mr. Kahn said. He also confirmed that 4Kids and Kids’ WB are looking to close negotiations shortly on a “long-term” renewal extension for “Pokemon.”
The renewal deal on “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” as one New York-based merchandising source put it, also ensures the kind of “proper exposure” to put it on a ratings and revenue track similar to “Pokemon.”