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Discovery finds niche in the real world

Looking back to about a year ago, with the kind of fast-paced expansion that had taken place in children's television, it was difficult to imagine that there were still many programming niches left unserved....
December 1, 1997

Looking back to about a year ago, with the kind of fast-paced expansion that had taken place in children’s television, it was difficult to imagine that there were still many programming niches left unserved.

But Discovery Channel, one of the U.S.’s leading cable channels, saw a significant opening.

The opportunity, says Marjorie Kaplan, senior vice president of children’s programming at Discovery Networks, U.S., lay between two ends in the children’s programming spectrum. On one side is the world of fantasy that is well represented by the likes of the Walt Disney Company. And on the other end is the gritty, real-life, immediate world of kids as they exist in their homes and in their schoolyards, which is probably being best captured through the programming of the cable channel Nickelodeon.

In the middle was programming that entertains and informs kids through real stories about the grand, exciting, broader world in which they live.

Discovery Kids, which targets children age six to 12, made its entry last April with a three-hour Sunday morning kids block of reality-based programming. Now, the cable service is into its second season with a fall schedule that has reality-based shows about dinosaurs, predatory animals, movie-making, science and technology, stories about animals and a new show called The Adventures of A.R.K. (Animal Rescue Kids), about a group of teens on a mission to assist animals in need of help from humans.

‘The real world is a very compelling place for kids,’ says Kaplan, who joined Discovery in May from Lancit Media Entertainment, where she was executive vice president. Before that, she was director of advertising for Kraft General Foods and a vice president at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather.

‘When kids get to seven or eight years old, the whole world begins to open up to them. It’s an emotional and a psychological change that takes place in their lives. Discovery Kids wants to tell those kids: the whole world is your club and you, the kids, are the protagonists.’

Discovery was in an ideal position to bring this world of reality to kids, says Kaplan.

‘The Discovery brand has the credibility in reality-based programming. It made sense to target it to kids,’ she says, adding, ‘When you pose the question to kids `What if this were true?’ or `What if this really happened?,’ then the interest meter goes way up.’

‘Fantasy has a really important place in kids’ lives. But when they see what reality has to offer, it provides them with a certain kind of empowerment that is also important. A big part of growing up is the sense of mastery about the world-the power that comes from knowing real life. Kids really want to be smart,’ says Kaplan. ‘Learning about the real world and knowing what’s out there is very powerful stuff.’

‘Kids like TV. It gives them some relief from the pressure of having to stay on the cutting edge all the time. Kids want to be hip, but they also want some relief from it. Our programming speaks to the optimism of kids. It’s not a fantasized vision. It’s reality, but not scary reality,’ she adds.

Discovery Kids is part of Discovery Channel, which reaches 72.6 million U.S. households.

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