Promax 96 Special Report

The consolidation of programming services, the threat of new federal government regulations and the untapped potential of new media rank among the key issues that concern program suppliers, syndicators, distributors and local broadcast stations about kids TV as they gather for...
June 1, 1996

The consolidation of programming services, the threat of new federal government regulations and the untapped potential of new media rank among the key issues that concern program suppliers, syndicators, distributors and local broadcast stations about kids TV as they gather for Promax 96.

Meanwhile, competition to secure the little available shelf space for programming becomes more heated as the major players in children’s programming get bigger and stronger. More than ever, building a successful program requires an aggressive and savvy marketing strategy.

However, some now openly wonder whether the emphasis on developing innovative promotional partnerships and alliances truly serves the kids audience with interesting and high-quality programming.

Such issues make Promax 96, the annual confab of media marketers, increasingly important year by year. The event provides a forum to discuss the promotion of television programming. This year’s Promax will have over 6,000 participants from more than 50 countries.

The importance of the role and function of promotions related to broadcasting has become an integral portion of the overall mix, says Elie Dekel, senior vice president, marketing and consumer promotions for Saban Entertainment. ‘As the importance of that grows, so d’es the level of attention paid to it,’ he adds.

Becoming smarter about what truly interests kids is vital to success in the marketplace. At the same time, the industry faces challenges on two other fronts: the dazzling possibilities represented by the new media and the frightening prospect that tighter government controls could emerge from the heat of election-year campaigning.

As for new media, most participants say they have yet to figure out whether the Internet is a friend or f’e-a viable promotional tool or just another distraction that will compete for kids’ limited time and erode viewership levels.

‘When parents talk of contemporary children’s programming, they are critical of content, promotion and advertising,’ says Stephen Croncota, senior vice president/creative director for the Cartoon Network. ‘They think the majority of what’s on TV for their kids is merchandise-driven. I think there is some basis for that. I don’t think there’s a lot of television programming on right now for kids about which we in the industry should feel proud of.’

While the conference serves as a opportunity to address these kinds of questions, for most attendees, Promax presents a chance to talk shop.

‘Promax is an incredible forum for exchanges of ideas,’ says Bob Ramsey, director of programming and promotion at KDAF Dallas. ‘I always look forward to it to see what’s going on, to hear other people’s success stories and rob a few ideas.’

KidScreen spoke with some of the executives planning to attend Promax 96 to get a snapshot of the questions that most concern them.

- Stephen Croncota, Senior Vice President/Creative Director, Cartoon Network

Q. As you prepare for Promax ’96, what, in your mind, is the single most important issue facing the children’s broadcast industry? What do you feel really needs to be addressed at this conference?

A. ‘I’ve sensed a change in the mood of the American public towards television. . . . It’s almost viewed . . . as sort of an enemy, or at least a medium over which a very close eye needs to be placed. Parents don’t feel that TV is something that can be trusted anymore.

‘When drastic measures like the V-chip are proposed and legislated, and there’s not an outcry by the American public that their rights are being taken away . . . that’s cause for an examination. That represents a challenge and a scary scenario for the medium. We should be looking at this as an opportunity for the medium . . . to improve what we are doing with television.’

Q. What was highlight of the past year-the event that contributed most to moving the industry forward?

A. ‘Kids have been, in my eyes, finally legitimized as a demanding audience requiring attention and respect. They’ve been taken for granted by television networks. Networks are learning that kids are very important consumers. Kids now are really being seen as a force, and I believe there’s going to be a real interest in upgrading quality. Part of that is symbolized by the exploding interest in animation.’

Q. Fast-forward to Promax 97. What do you expect will be on the agenda as the hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘Involvement and interactivity are going to be touchstone issues for television over the next handful of years. Television is going to need to think of how to [better] compete. Too often, people in TV look at other networks as competition; they’re not. Kids magazines, CD-ROMs and computers continue to develop and are all competitive forces vying for kids’ very limited time.’

- Tom Harbeck. Senior Vice President, Marketing & On-Air Promotion/Creative Director, U.S. television, Nickelodeon

Q. What is the single most important issue facing the children’s broadcast industry? What do you feel needs to be addressed at this conference?

A. ‘The competitive nature of the environment has everyone’s attention: larger deals, more players, more intense cross promotion, more marketing dollars. As a result of that, there’s a tremendous amount of consolidation domestically and internationally.

‘My concern is that the [kids] audience may get lost in the hype of all of the mega-big business stuff going on.’

Q. Highlight of the past year-the event that contributed most to moving the industry forward?

A. ‘The scramble of the broadcast networks to be like each other by abandoning the kid audience and what was once considered the 8 o’clock family-friendly hour in order to grab the 18 to 49 demographic. It’s been our [Nickelodeon's] response to try to fill it with good original programming that puts kids first and is family-friendly.’

Q. Fast-forward to Promax 97. What do you expect will be on the agenda as the hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘The competition factor. As everything becomes larger, and the larger players get involved, what will happen to kids? Another thing is that kids will have a lot more opportunities both in TV and in other media. They are technologically savvy and flocking towards computers and CD-ROMs faster than anybody. They are going to continue to have a lot of options for entertainment as the future unfolds.’

- Chris Russo, Senior Vice President, Marketing, New Line Television

Q. The single most important issue?

A. ‘The most important issue has always been, and continues to be, providing and producing quality programming. Ultimately it comes down to producing product that’s compelling, entertaining and has some redeeming social qualities. From a marketing and promotional perspective, the other key issue is: How do you launch and build a kids brand, given the dramatically increased competition? It has become much more difficult to get a substantial core audience to build a brand than it was in the past.’

Q. Highlight of the past year?

A. ‘I’m happy to see that brand marketers are increasingly embracing these properties to build their businesses. You’re seeing more tie-ins, more events, more partnerships from the brand marketing side, and that’s an important development because by bringing those partners into the fold, even though there is more competition, we are in a sense building a bigger pie, as opposed to beating each other up.’

Q. The hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘I think there will be discussion of what role the new media are going to play in this. What you are seeing now is the sizzle; next year and the following years, we are going to be dealing with the reality of the new media. What do the Internet or the on-line services offer for kids properties? Are they promotional tools? Are they revenue-generating tools? Can they build TV franchises? Are they subtracting the audience?

‘Also, how to secure audiences and launch a property will continue to be big issues-specifically, whether you need to develop long-term strategic alliances or whether you can you succeed by doing one-off promotions.’

- John Claster, President, Claster TV

Q. The single most important issue?

A. ‘Time periods. As a syndicator, with the emergence of Fox, UPN and WB, clearly we’re looking at time periods as a key issue. All of the mergers that have taken place certainly have had an impact on this.

‘[Also], promotion and getting time for promotion. We battle with the stations all of the time. The start of the fall season is when everybody has their new product, but at the same time, you can’t ignore your syndicated shows.’

Q. Highlight of the past year?

A. ‘I don’t think there’s been any big-bang event. But I think that kids have an increasing number choices to turn to for entertainment. Not just WB and UPN, but also new technologies, the Internet, interactive games and even more after-school activities. All of these things have impact on the way a child behaves and uses television.

‘One of the things to recognize is that in the last 12 months, while there have been some shows that have been very successful, there are no shows that have emerged like Power Rangers did a couple of years ago to really capture kids’ imaginations.’

Q. The hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘The shelf space issue is going to continue to be there. However, down the road, five years out, the big issue is going to be: What’s the delivery system? Is it going to come in over wire, over the air? Will there be multiple distribution systems? As you fragment the broadcast world, what’s going to survive? Right now, that’s really hard to tell.’

- Bob Ramsey, Director of programming & Promotion, KDAF Dallas, Texas

Q. The single most important issue?

A. ‘The most important issue seems to be concerning the FCC-is the federal government going to impose a specific number of hours that stations are required to put towards children’s educational programming? What is educational and informational has yet to be completely defined. I think stations want a broader definition than what the FCC has said.’

Q. Highlight of the past year?

A. ‘The backlash against Nielsen is really something that over the past six months has been very interesting. In terms of programming and marketing, the success of the launch of Kids’ WB has been impressive.’

Q. The hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘Again, I still think the hot issue will be: Will the federal government, whether through the FCC or through Congress, impose minimum requirements for carrying children’s educational programming? And d’es that get tied into license renewal? That may be determined depending on how the [U.S. national] elections turn out.’

- Dan Reese, Creative Services Manager, WPHL Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Q. The single most important issue?

A. ‘The big issue remains government intervention in requiring educational programming, and the number of hours we are required to carry in that area. In terms of promotion, the issue remains the difficulty in reaching kids in today’s marketplace.’

Q. Highlight of the past year?

A. ‘No one thing really stands out, but expansion of the Internet is something that we’re all keeping an eye on, and as kids begin to use more of that, more of their time is drawn away from television. I’m not convinced yet that it’s a big marketing tool.’

Q. The hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘The Internet will continue to be. I think there will be some more issues with deregulation . . . more cable competition and the phone companies getting involved with cable distribution. All of these things fight for kids’ attention and make it more and more difficult to reach them.’

- Stacey Okonowski, Vice President, Media & Marketing, KCAL Los Angeles, California

Q. The single most important issue?

A. ‘There’s always been the issue of FCC-friendly programming, but the real issue is not which shows qualify as that type of programming, but rather, the definition of ‘FCC-friendly’ itself. What makes something FCC-friendly or educational? Those issues within the issues are more of a concern with me.’

Q. Highlight of the past year?

A. ‘Frankly, I don’t think the industry has moved forward in the past few years, because I don’t think that people have really taken kids seriously, as far as the type of quality programming that you can offer kids that still has some educational value. Kids today are more aware of things than kids in the past, so we need to start marketing to them and entertaining to them as such.’

Q. The hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘Most of the key issues have been addressed in one way or another. I think the focus and the emphasis of those issues changes from year to year. For example, when the government gets more involved, they want to increase the hours of FCC-friendly or educational programming.’

- Elie Dekel, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Consumer Promotins, Saban Entertainment

Q. The single most important issue?

A. ‘The market has tightened up in terms of the available time periods for children’s programming to get on the air, largely due to alliances between producers and distributors, and the fact that there’s not all that much real estate out there for kids TV shows. The shows that do get on the air get there because they either come from a producer with a very strong track record, come with a very strong package deal or media promotion, or through some pre-existing alliance or deal. It’s made the marketplace very competitive.’

Q. Highlight of the past year?

A. ‘We’ve been in the center of what we consider to be a very significant change in kids television, and from our point of view, one for the better. From our own perspective, our alliance with Fox has been a hugely significant milestone and turning point for the way we do business and the way Fox Kids d’es business. We’ve consolidated our resources to take advantage of what each of us d’es best, and the potential of what that alliance can do in the marketplace is very quickly coming to be realized.’

Q. The hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘Consolidation seems to be a buzz word that everyone is hot on now. I think you’ll see a lot more alliances developed between not just TV producers, studios and networks, but also with [promotional partners] as everyone tries to consolidate their strengths and improve their efficiency in the process. It’s going to make it much tougher for the little guy to make a dent.’

- Phil Kane, Promotions Manager, KTVD Denver, Colorado

Q. The single most important issue?

A. ‘The quality of the programming is paramount to anything else. With kids, station programmers and owners should be more sensitive to that when placing purchases. It’s not just a matter of filling in the programming, it’s a matter of what you’re filling it in with, what’s worth the money and what’s not.’

Q. Highlight of the past year?

A. ‘I’d say that the Kids’ WB, as a programming element, has rejuvenated Saturday morning kids fare. It’s made it more of an event, and it seems to be something that both the kids and parents enjoy. It followed on the trail of the Fox Kids Network, and I think WB has done a much better job.’

Q. The hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘Stations are trying as much as they can to do public interest-related promotions and programming for kids, and at the same time, trying to figure out a way to make the biggest buck that they can. How to do that without making it come across as a commercial is an ongoing problem.’

- Stuart Tauber, Vice President & General Manager, WSBK Boston, Massachusetts

Q. The single most important issue?

A. ‘There are three things that are important. First is commercial time limitations. How do you maximize your revenues when you have to minimize your commercial inventory for the sake of children and viewing? Secondly, the impact that regulation has on the number of hours of children’s educational programs that we have to run. Third, how do you deal with the widening number of sources that children can go to for both entertainment and education?’

Q. Highlight of the past year?

A. ‘The development of WB and UPN have added burgeoning networks to the industry, which makes for stiffer competition.’

Q. The hot issue a year from now?

A. ‘The spectrum. How the government handles the use of the spectrum as we move into HDTV is a huge issue. I also think the new FCC rules about educational TV will continue to be a big issue. I think there will be a broad definition, and there’s a fine line between educational TV and entertainment, but I think we can do both.’

About The Author


Brand Menu