By Debra Kaufman
Special to TelevisionWeek
Why aren’t broadcast networks jumping on the preschool programming bandwagon?
It’s primarily economics, said Margaret Loesch, co-founder and co-CEO with Bruce Stein of The Hatchery, a company that develops and produces original entertainment for the family and kids market.
“It’s all about money, and they can’t sell a commercial targeting preschoolers and Mom at the same rate they can with other programs,” said Ms. Loesch, who was formerly founding president and CEO of Fox Kids Networks and president of the Jim Henson Television Group and Marvel Productions. “They feel it’ll hurt them financially.”
American Greetings Corp. acquired a large stake in The Hatchery in December 2004, joining original investor Mandalay Entertainment. The Hatchery is currently in development with American Greetings on the preschool show “Maryoku Yummy,” but Ms. Loesch said the program isn’t necessarily headed for a broadcast network. “Broadcasters aren’t buying preschool programming,” she said. “It’s a challenge for them to segue from preschool programming to adult programming. They feel it hurts their lead-in.”
Ms. Loesch said that when she was building Fox Kids, which targeted a 6 to 11 demographic, she tried launching a small preschool programming block, the Fox Clubhouse. Ratings dropped, ads didn’t sell and the block disappeared.
What did she learn from the experience? “Have a large, dedicated block of programming for preschoolers, seven days a week. Then you don’t have to worry about the lead-in. The bottom line is that preschool programming is a niche.”
Niche programming has always been the domain of the cable channels, and preschool programming is no exception. While preschool programming may run counter to broadcast networks’ business model, however, Ms. Loesch predicted the networks “will gravitate towards finding a way to do more kids programming.”
“The one area in which DVD sales is growing is children’s programming,” she said. “And when you try to build a business and compete, there is something to be said for a cradle-to-grave strategy. Why not try to develop an audience with young kids who might be loyal to your network?”
Video-on-demand, which has been a success for many cable networks, may also lure broadcasters to consider children’s programming. But the real opportunity for distributors and producers of preschool programming, Ms. Loesch said, is new modes of distribution.
“Gone are the days where the entertainment business is just channels,” she said. “There are more ways to reach kids than cable channels. The Internet, video games, VOD, broadband, iPods, mobile-it’s clearly other platforms. Among the next big hits in children’s programming, some of it will come out of the Internet or mobile technology.”
Ms. Loesch credited FCC regulations requiring weekly educational programming as a factor behind the current boom in preschool programming. “Requiring some educational programming has meant that more is being produced-and a great deal of that has been preschool,” she said.
Programming for Preschoolers