More than 75 cable channels have banded together for one week to pledge prime-time hours to the first Tune In to Kids and Family initiative, an event they hope will prove that cable is a family-friendly place
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The bold nature of the Tune In to Kids and Family initiative seems to appeal to cable operators normally head-to-head competitors battling it out for ratings and audience shares who feel that this huge prime-time push is designed to help cable update its image to that of a major family programming source.
‘In the old days, when people wanted to define our industry, ‘racy movies’ was part of [the] image for cable. This initiative is about helping to provide a new definition,’ says Herb Scannell, president of Nickelodeon.
For Nickelodeon, changing to conform to the initiative is unnecessary, since it’s already a full-time kids network. ‘Still, we want to support the industry and get behind what we think is an important thing. The more people who look to cable for kids and family viewing, the better off Nickelodeon will be,’ says Scannell. Nickelodeon plans to support the initiative by airing prime programming such as Nick Sports Theater starring Shaquille O’Neal.
‘Obviously, we’re not in the same place as Nickelodeon,’ says Iris Burnett, vice president of corporate communications at USA Network. ‘[But] the bottom line is that people really think this is an important initiative, and they want to participate, although a lot of people can’t afford to do special programming for this. . . . We’re going to make some changes in our programming that week to highlight family programs. But we’re not going to create new programs. We’ll participate in the best way we can.’
The Disney Channel president Anne Sweeney believes Tune In to Kids and Family’s presence at prime time is a smart move. ‘So much of children’s programming runs in the morning hours. The initiative is set up to be sensitive to how people are watching television.’ The Disney Channel is participating by running the television premiere of Pocahontas in a Tune In to Kids and Family slot. ‘We were planning to premiere Pocahontas in the spring, and we certainly think that [airing the movie during this week] is putting our money where our mouth is in support of the campaign,’ says Sweeney.
Even among channels that are already known for their family-friendly programming, such as Discovery Channel and The Family Channel, enthusiasm for the initiative is high. ‘What’s fascinating about this is that even though we’re all distinctive networks, we can get together to provide wholesome family entertainment,’ says Jonathan Rogers, president of Discovery Networks. ‘At the Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and Animal Planet, we do this all the time, but this is a way for us to highlight it.’
At The Family Channel, an original program has been produced to premiere during Tune In to Kids and Family week. ‘The one-hour special that we’re doing is going to be a guide for parents in terms of watching television and trying to determine what is appropriate for their kids to watch,’ says Gus Lucas, president of programming at The Family Channel. ‘The special will cover the effects of violence on children [and act] to better educate parents.’ Other programming commitments by the channel include airing original Family Channel movies all week long. ‘Our CEO, Tim Robertson, has definitely taken a leadership position in pushing forward the initiative.’
For other cable operators, such as Showtime Network, participation includes running children’s programming during key prime-time slots every night. This includes the premiere of My Life as a Dog, a new 19-episode Showtime series for kids age eight to 14, based on the film of the same name.
Nickelodeon and Disney are key players in the initiative, having partnered to do the broadcast and print promotions. In addition, as of press time, both channels, along with Bravo!, Cartoon Network, The Family Channel, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and Nick at Nite’s TV Land will air simultaneously the initiative’s kickoff event, The American Family and Television: A National Town Hall Meeting. Linda Ellerbee is the show’s producer and host.
‘Bringing aboard Linda Ellerbee, who’s won every award known to man, gives the kickoff its unprecedented nature,’ says Nickelodeon’s Scannell.
As for other possible motives for the existence of the event, Joshua Sapan, president and CEO of Rainbow Programming Holdings and the creator of the initiative, is the only one who acknowledges any connection between the cable initiative and the recent FCC ruling requiring broadcast stations to air at least three hours a week of educational children’s programming. ‘I think the [new FCC regulations] can’t help but have raised the awareness on everyone’s part to the issue. But it wasn’t, ‘oh well, we should do this because the broadcast networks are doing this.”
As for selling advertising to specifically support the event, the participating channels chose not to. ‘We didn’t try to engage [advertisers],’ says Scannell. ‘I think we’ve really looked at this as an industry initiative first and not a commercial enterprise. We allied with TV Guide to create the equivalent of a viewer guide. We did not try to frame this as an initiative whereby a sponsor will try to pay for everything [and] carve up the advertising money. That’s not what this is about.’
The only marketing push connected with the event is a Tune In to Kids and Family insert in TV Guide, which will highlight all the programming events of the Kids and Family week. Sapan says that since cable channels are the only advertisers involved, the insert is tangential. ‘I think TV Guide did a wonderful job with the supplement, in terms of drawing attention. But TV Guide is the only beneficiary of that.’
The Disney Channel’s Sweeney hopes the initiative will raise awareness among viewers. ‘For people that maybe weren’t aware of the cable industry’s wide variety of programming for kids and family, this will shed light on what the options are,’ says Sweeney. ‘When I look at the number of channels that have been added every year since I’ve been in cable, it’s staggering and it’s a heck of a lot to keep track of. So Josh [Sapan]‘s idea to have the Kids and Family initiative was really a wonderful one. It helps focus people on the offerings [and on] where they are, and encourages people to sample some things they haven’t sampled before.’