4Kids: Out of the Fox Box promotions

Jul 8, 2002  •  Post A Comment

4Kids Entertainment’s Al Kahn has more than his fair share of surprises planned to pop out of the Fox Box as he builds a new broadcast business.
Two months before the Sept. 14 launch of Fox Box, a four-hour Saturday-morning children’s programming block that 4Kids is leasing from Fox for $25.4 million annually, the merchandising/licensing giant is already hatching a number of innovative promotion and programming strategies to get the word out to kids.
As the newest players in a consolidated network world, 4Kids and Fox Box executives are laying out what will be a non-traditional, multimedia launch designed to utilize broadcast and cable networks outside of Fox.
Specifically, Mr. Kahn, chairman and CEO of 4Kids Entertainment, is using the company’s media-buying arm, Summit Media Group, to buy promotional spot time on Fox-owned stations in major markets where the group has duopoly ownership of UPN affiliates. The second major spoke in the pre- and post-launch promotion includes the purchase of commercial spots on an “unwired” national network of local cable systems, which would allow Fox Box promos to air adjacent to national spot breaks on competing kids cable networks.
“We’re looking to really get the word out in ads that will air within several cable networks’ weekday afternoon and prime-time rotations,” said Mr. Kahn, who declined to comment on speculation that the Fox Box promo spots will air on the Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and ABC Family cable networks.
Daniel Barnathan, Fox Box’s newly installed executive VP of sales, marketing and promotion, stressed that the local unwired cable network buys will extend over a 52-week period beginning in August, and not just for the pre-launch period. The unwired buys, he and other 4Kids sources noted, should include the participation of major multiple cable system operators such as Time Warner Cable, AT&T Broadband, Comcast and Cablevision, in addition to direct satellite broadcaster DirecTV.
It is that sort of “outside of the Fox Box thinking,” as Fox Box President Norman Grossfeld jokingly put it, that has the nascent kids programmer eyeing local spot buys on the Fox-owned stations in duopoly markets.
In the major markets (including New York and Los Angeles) where the Fox Television Stations Group operates a half-dozen jointly owned Fox and UPN affiliates, Mr. Grossfeld and Mr. Kahn said Fox Box will be buying 52-week promotional flights on both stations. Getting the additional promo carriage on a UPN station is notable given that the network currently airs Walt Disney Co.-supplied children’s programming in its weekday and Saturday rotations.
Mr. Kahn declined to divulge what 4Kids has budgeted for the unwired cable network and local TV stations promo spot buys, allowing only that it is in the “millions of dollars.”
As the 8 a.m.-to-noon (ET) Fox Box schedule is taking shape, Mr. Grossfeld and Mr. Kahn shed some light on an in-store promotion being concocted with retailing giant Toys “R” Us. Beginning Aug. 31, kids arriving at Toys “R” Us outlets nationally will be the recipients of 1 million free Fox Boxes, which will contain a variety of giveaway toys, a CD-ROM and a preview tape of shows debuting on Fox Box.
4Kids will also be getting some attendant on-air promotional support from the Fox Network and its affiliates. Mr. Kahn confirmed that the company could be stretching its promo buys with other non-Fox-owned affiliates in smaller markets.
As part of its time buy deal with Fox, which has an initial term of four years but can be extended by two years (through the 2007-08 season) at 4Kids’ option, Fox Box is also being granted 26 minutes of promotional spot time annually during Fox’s prime-time schedule. In addition, the licensing agreement allows 4Kids to produce and air a half-hour season preview, with the first special set to air Sunday, Sept. 1, in the choice 7:30 p.m.-to-8 p.m. time slot in front of Fox’s longstanding hit “The Simpsons.”
In keeping with 4Kids’ pedigree of developing billion-dollar merchandising and licensing properties out of “Pokemon,” “Cubix” and now “Yu-Gi-Oh!”-which was renewed last month with the Kids’ WB for next season-the Fox Box lineup is similarly geared toward building ancillary merchandising revenues.
Airing at 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the Fox Box, “Ultraman: Tiga” marks a “contemporary revival” of the former live-action Japanese series that gained a campy cult status in the United States during the mid-1970s to early 1980s. Mr. Grossfeld suggested that “Ultraman” may have fed kid and teen viewer interest for anime-style cartoons from the Land of the Rising Sun.
“We really have a corporate philosophy that kids are kids through time, and we hold a belief that a historic property can be revived with contemporary content,” Mr. Grossfeld said.
That philosophy is similarly being applied to the first quarter 2003 relaunch of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which will air from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays.
After finding merchandising hits among the recent wave of anime (“Pokemon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!”), 4Kids is betting heavily on new Japanese imports “Kinnikuman: Ultimate Muscle” and “Kirby,” with each getting a double-run in the Fox Box lineup. “Kinnikuman,” a wrestling-based “intergalactic slam-a-rama” will air from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. “Kirby.” a video-game-inspired series created by Nintendo for its various Game Boy and Gamecube platforms, will air from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Some media buyers have suggested that Fox Box and other broadcast networks might not have been considered premium, must-have buys like cable’s Nickelodeon in the just-wrapping kids upfront ad market. But Mr. Barnathan claims to have sold more than 70 percent of Fox Box’s ad inventory in the upfront. “We have the potential of reaching kids in 48 of the top 50 markets and in up to 98 percent of the U.S., so the quality of our reach and penetration is just simply much better than what the cable networks can offer,” he said.