Syndie Knocks Kids Off Block

May 30, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Kids WB!, the last daily afternoon broadcast block aimed at children, will be replaced in January 2006 by two hours of syndicated shows aimed at a more grown-up audience.

The WB Network is dropping its Monday-through-Friday children’s block, which airs on about 200 stations, while beefing up kids programming on Saturday morning. The children’s block, launched a decade ago, currently airs from 3-5 p.m. It is being replaced by a WB-branded block of syndicated programming, which may eventually include first-run syndicated fare, all designed to appeal to the network’s target demographic of 18- to 49-year-olds. The change is also expected to provide a better audience flow for the network and affiliates and a powerful new promotional vehicle for the network’s prime-time programming.

The change is an admission that most youngsters-and advertisers-now turn to cable channels such as Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network in the afternoon, not to the broadcast networks. Both Fox and Disney have dropped their weekday afternoon broadcast programming for children.

“You could see this train coming down the track,” said Garth Ancier, chairman of The WB Network. “The 24/7 [cable] networks dedicated to kids [have] become a destination for a generation of kids. They no longer turn to broadcast stations that might be running adult programming all day and then run adult programming after this.”

On Saturday mornings The WB will increase its children’s programming by one hour, for a total of five hours. No layoffs are anticipated due to the changes. Both The WB and Cartoon Network will sell the expanded inventory of ad time, as they had been doing for the daily block.

“Saturday morning makes more sense because all of the networks, by and large, do programs for kids on that morning,” Mr. Ancier said. “So in that daypart, kids do know to turn to broadcast television. It’s sort of prime time for kids.”

The change is not really a ratings issue. In every sweeps period for the past five years, according to The WB, it has been No. 1 with children afternoons and Saturday mornings. During the May sweeps, for instance, Kids WB! was the top network among kids 2 to 11, boys 6 to 11 and tweens 9 to 14. Its hit shows include “Pokemon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!”

Though Fox and Disney returned the time to affiliates when they dropped broadcast programming for kids, The WB is keeping it. However, the change is expected to provide increased revenues for local stations who have been having a difficult time selling local advertising aimed at children, even though The WB had done fairly well with national advertisers.

The dollar volume of children’s advertising on broadcast has been in steady decline for several years, while it has grown on cable. In each hour The WB is expected to have eight minutes to sell over two hours and local stations five minutes.

This change “will dramatically increase the stations’ revenue out of that block,” said Bill Butler, VP of group programming and promotions for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 19 WB affiliates.

The switch “will help the network by making the stations stronger and hopefully providing a revenue source that will replace that kids profitability as well as broadening the brand and creating a new promotional platform,” said Marc Schacher, programming and development for Tribune Broadcasting, which has a 22 percent equity stake in The WB and brings 19 stations to the partnership.

The change also will provide a better audience flow for the affiliates which should boost their own syndicated programming during early fringe and access (between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., when The WB Network shows come on). Coming out of the children’s block, there was essentially no audience flow for the more adult shows.

“I’ve been for it for a long time,” said Doug Gealy, president and chief operating officer of Acme Communications, which has eight WB affiliates. “It really was a very unprofitable block for the stations.”

The 10 hours a week of off-network and first-run programs that The WB will acquire is expected to instantly make it a major new buyer in the syndicated market. Mr. Ancier, who along with The WB President of Entertainment David Janollari, is personally involved in choosing the syndicated shows to air, said this will create an additional platform for syndicators and make The WB a major buyer of repurposed programming. Mr. Ancier, who produced the successful “Ricki Lake” syndicated talk show, said the WB will announce the January schedule in a few weeks and then revise the schedule in September 2006.

“We have already had informal discussions with a number of studios and plan on meeting with all of them in coming days as we put together our first schedule,” Mr. Ancier said in a statement.

There is a question of just how much quality fare is available. “If the afternoon schedule is made up of only off-network fare at a time where there is not a substantial amount coming into the marketplace in the next few years, then it has the potential to be a problem, especially for the non-WB affiliates,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Media TV. “There’s been concern that there isn’t enough product without this development. With the development there may be an even greater concern.”

Some sources suggested it could be a venue for Warner Bros. to place off-network shows that are not huge hits and have not been easy to sell into syndication.

Mr. Ancier said that over time the network will consider developing and acquiring more first-run shows, which would make the network a launchpad for syndicators.

“Ultimately, if it becomes a venue for the production of exclusive-to-broadcast fare that wouldn’t be developed otherwise, then-like anything that helps to uniquely position broadcast-[The WB’s move] has the potential to be a good thing,” Mr. Carroll said. “Because right now it’s been tougher and tougher to be able to financially justify production of first-run product that runs in daytime.”

Mr. Ancier told TelevisionWeek the switch from kids to target adults is being done for economic reasons, but also in part as a reaction to tougher rules on children’s programming, of which promos are now counted the same as advertising. That has been of concern to the network and many affiliates.

“It was not the primary reason for doing this,” said Mr. Ancier, “but there’s no question that the uncertainty going forward that the [Federal Communications Commission] has created by changing the rules and leaving us not knowing exactly when they will take effect [or] whether they will be stringent, contributed to us making this call.”

The increasingly structured federal rules on children’s TV have also made it difficult for The WB and its affiliates to promote more adult shows on their prime-time schedules. “About the only show we could promote was ‘7th Heaven,'” said Mr. Ancier.

Mr. Ancier said the change has been under discussion for some time. Key affiliates were told during a dinner following The WB’s upfront presentation in New York two weeks ago that it was happening. “This is something I’ve actually wanted to do for a year,” Mr. Ancier said. “It was really trying to figure out how to make it work for the stations and for us. But the stations were not the ones who drove this.”

Many of the stations appear happy with the change. Tribune’s Mr. Schacher said, “This is a great example of how stations as their partner in the affiliate body in general have been able to resolve a conflict that we’ve had with the network and been discussing with them for a good 2%BD; years and what really results, we think, is a win-win situation.”

There were some reports that certain affiliates did not favor the change, mainly because it will mean somewhat less ad inventory for them to sell. Mr. Ancier noted that what they do have will now be easier to sell and more valuable. A source at The WB said that under their contract, affiliates do not have the option to opt out of the new bran
ded entertainment block and program the time themselves.

It is not unprecedented for a network to program an afternoon block. CBS and ABC used to run syndicated fare in daytime on their schedules. “The Love Boat,” for example, was part of the ABC daytime lineup. “M*A*S*H” was in daytime on CBS. However, it has not been done that way in recent years.

Melissa Grego contributed to this report.