When Fox debuted its Kids Network in September 1990, it caught the big three napping. Much as they dismissed the new network’s prime-time capabilities, they left themselves wide open for Fox’s penetration in the children’s market.
At that time, the playing field was much different than today. Syndicators ruled the weekdays and the networks owned Saturday mornings. Nickelodeon was only beginning to show indications of being an important player. Fox understood that it had an opportunity to grab a large chunk of the children’s programming market.
The network turned to an unlikely source for guidance on how to build its children’s brand. It turned to its affiliates. The national network and the local affiliates forged a unique partnership that has enabled both parties to profit. The Fox Kids Network (which runs one hour of children’s programming weekday mornings, two hours weekday afternoons, and four on Saturdays) currently ranks as the number one network with kids, according to Bert Gould, executive vice president, marketing, promotion and program strategy for Fox Children’s Network. At press time, it had the top six weekday shows, and was tops with children six to 17 on every half-hour on Saturday mornings.
Prior to the formation of the network, Fox affiliates had tended to dominate the kids marketplace. The downside was that these stations would be at the mercy of syndicators who would reap such benefits as taking more in terms of barter split. The affiliates came to Fox and asked the network to create something that would give them a more equitable share of the pie. The result was the Fox Kids Network.
By becoming major profit participants in the networks, the affiliates not only get a better barter split than through traditional syndication, but as Fox turns a profit with licensing and merchandising, international distribution, and international licensing and merchandising, they share in the the back end. At NATPE, stations received disbursements from a pool of $15 million against profits for 1996.
This arrangement gives Fox affiliates a greater incentive to promote the network.
‘Affiliates have a dual revenue stream profit, and their own sales of time in the local marketplace,’ says Gould. ‘They get their profits based on how strong the ratings are. The more eyeballs they deliver to Fox kids programming, the more money they get, regardless of their market size. If they preempt us or run us out of pattern, it ultimately affects their profits. Because of the system we’ve set up, we now have the best distribution of any kids source.’
Fox Kids Network has 96 percent coverage of the country, the highest of any network, broadcast or cable.
This affects promotion in two ways. Because the affiliates know that their profits are generated by higher ratings, Fox Network relies on them to handle most show and tune-in promotions, allowing the network level to concentrate on broader and more exciting exposure promotions.
Some of the more successful partnerships have sprung from Fox Kids Network offshoots: the Fox Kids Club, which has over 5.2 million members; Totally Kids, a quarterly magazine; and the Fox Kids Countdown, a Sunday radio show. Between radio, print, TV, and its Web site, Fox can get its message to kids seven days a week. Advertisers involved in these properties include McDonald’s Restaurants, Sega, Mattel, Quaker Oats and L.A. Gear.
Ideas like the Kids Club came from the affiliates.
‘We learned more from our affiliates than they learned from us,’ says Gould. ‘The stations are so much more equipped to develop promotions on the local level.’
Fox customizes its materials to the local markets, ensuring that every local Kids Club is backed by a quality of materials at a national level. ‘It’s really important to us to drive the local flavor and we think that helps us stand out from the competition,’ he says.
The key to any successful promotion comes down to whether or not it engages kids, and Gould believes that means treating them with respect as consumers. He feels that some companies have still failed to grasp the idea that children are serious consumers. That’s why he’s careful about the types of promotions Fox runs.
A recent example of a successful promotion was ‘Fox Rocks Your School.’ Fox partnered with McDonald’s for this contest in which a lucky kid won a Boys II Men concert for his or her school. McDonald’s ran TV spots on Fox that encouraged kids to fill out entry blanks at McDonald’s.
In February, it ran a promotion with Sega and McDonald’s in which one entrant won a trip to Sega headquarters and helped design a video game. Kids sent Fox a post card, or filled out an entry blank at McDonald’s. Sega supported the contest in Totally Kids and on the Fox Kids Countdown.
Later this year, Fox will run a contest in conjunction with its popular Goosebumps series. The winner will meet Goosebumps author R.L. Stein, and be written into one of his books. At press time, no promotional partners had been brought on board. The network is also in the early stages of evaluating and learning how to implement promotional opportunities on its Web page.
‘We’ve done some very unique promotions, not because the advertisers have come to us and said they need to get more exposure, but mostly because these are really cool promotions. With the right partner, it makes the promotion that much better,’ says Gould. ‘We want to do what’s fun and are open to hearing anyone who has a good idea, whether it’s an advertiser or otherwise.’