A new sandbox

Feb 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

National Geographic Television & Film has lured away Kids’ WB head Donna Friedman Meir to head its new kids programming division.
As president of kids programming and production, Ms. Friedman Meir will develop kids programming for television and film. The division won’t be limited to producing for in-house cable network the National Geographic Channel.
“I will be producing everything from potentially small interstitial series that could air on a cable network or a broadcast network to large-format films,” Ms. Friedman Meir said. “The National Geographic Channel will be an outlet that we’ll have to pitch like anybody else, but really, the goal is to be selling programming to all of the major cable networks [and] broadcast networks.”
Television programming developed by the new division could be animated or live-action as long as it fits into National Geographic’s mission of exposing kids to the world, Ms. Friedman Meir said. “They hired me because my expertise is producing commercially successful series,” she said. “There are several extremely successful commercial properties on Kids’ WB [and] Nickelodeon that could have been developed by National Geographic, because they are exposing kids to the world.”
Ms. Friedman Meir, who will report to National Geographic Television & Film President Tim Kelly, will be based in Beverly Hills, Calif., where National Geographic already has a small film division office. She plans to staff up the division by hiring a seasoned kids development executive and a junior creative executive.
Since she started at Kids WB! in 1999 Ms. Friedman Meir has led the network to the No. 1 position among all broadcast and cable networks in the core demos of boys 6 to 11 and boys 2 to 11, along with narrowing the gap with Nickeolodeon to 0.5 of a ratings point in kids 6 to 11. She developed or acquired such hits as “Yu-Gi-Oh!” “Jackie Chan Adventures,” “Ozzy & Drix” and “What’s New Scooby-Doo?”
Ms. Friedman Meir said she was leaving the top broadcast kids network because she likes the challenge of building a new entity from the ground up, and the opportunity to work for National Geographic meshed well with her personal values.
“That’s what my whole career has been about,” she said. “I like to think of myself as a builder, and every position I’ve ever had, including my nine years at Nickelodeon [before Kids’ WB], I was always a part of building a new division, a new entity, a new country.”
While National Geographic has delved into the kids business, recently relaunching its National Geographic for Kids magazine, striking a toy licensing deal with Target stores and producing direct-to-home kids videos, the company joins a marketplace that has gotten crowded with nontraditional players in the past year.
Starting in fall 2002, Discovery Networks leased NBC’s Saturday morning time slots for $6 million a year in a three-year deal, while 4Kids Entertainment is paying Fox $25 million a year to program its Saturday morning time slots for four years.
So far this season Discovery’s Saturday lineup on NBC is in last place among the six broadcasters in kids 2 to 11 (0.7/3), kids 2 to 5 (0.6/3) and kids 6 to 11 (0.7/3). 4Kids’ lineup on Fox is fifth in kids 2 to 11 (1.2/5) and kids 2 to 5 (0.9/4) and tied for third in kids 6 to 11 (1.3/6).
Despite the tight marketplace, Ms. Friedman Meir said National Geographic felt this was a good time to expand its kids business. “What they’ve told me is that the time just felt right. They’ve planted a bunch of seeds, and the missing piece was the entertainment, the television and film part of it,” she said. “For the [National Geographic] society, building their relationship with kids and young families is critical to the long-term success and fulfillment of what the society is all about.”