Fox Family Worldwide’s announcement of the launch of two additional digital/analog channels in 1999, The Boyz Channel and The Girlz Channel, took the kids business by surprise, as the move was not mentioned at the October Saban Summit event (which details Fox Kids’ and Fox Family’s marketing plans for the upcoming year). The channels, which will target kids by sex in the day and program to parents at night (with acquired and original shows on the issues of raising either sex), has met with mixed response.
There is interest in seeing how this next step in demo evolution plays out. Speculation ranges from whether gender-specific programming will be effective in many age-brackets, to the question of how many advertisers need to further differentiate their kid campaigns by sex. Many products are non-gender specific, even within certain toy categories (such as games and preschool). However, there is also theorizing that this precise-targeting opportunity could prove an efficient combo for advertisers.
As with everything, a lot will depend on the compelling creation of a successful Boyz-/ Girlz-friendly environment. As to where the different sex-specific skeds will come from, Fox Family president and CEO Rich Cronin says programming for the channels will consist of Fox Family worldwide library product plus some acquisitions, with original productions ramping up in a year or two.
The services launch as digital channels but will also be available as basic analog services. No launch date was set, as affiliates had not been approached prior to the announcement, says Cronin. ‘The launch [date] will be driven by discussions with cable operators, and will occur sooner if the operators say they need it earlier,’ says Cronin. Analog versions will be available in only a few highly updated markets, and are not a primary push for the channels, he notes. One million homes are currently digital, a number projected to reach three million by the end of the year.
Addressing concerns that separate channels for boys and girls will over-fragment the audience, Cronin responds, ‘There are currently four women’s channels, but no channel just for boys, no channel just for girls. Niche marketing is what cable and satellite do best.’ Fox Family’s research shows that boys and girls have very specific needs, however in some cases, a show may be able to air on either The Boyz Channel or The Girlz Channel, depending on research results, says Cronin.
Some onlookers gave the gender division a chilly reception. ‘It seems to me to be going to the next step-to the ultimate in segmentation. It may be so segmented it reaches a very narrow target,’ notes Jeff Coryell, associate media director at the JSM Plus ad agency in L.A. Coryell also wonders whether the girls’ channel will suffer from lack of ad support, due to industry wisdom that girls watch boys’ shows but boys shun girls’ programs. ‘Advertisers may shy away from The Girlz Channel,’ he speculates.
A media strategist for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese expressed reservations about content. ‘It’s going to raise some issues [for advertisers] about what do you say on each of these channels and how do you say it,’ notes John Marson, associate media director, Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago. However, Cronin says many advertisers are already in the habit of creating several spots for one product, targeting different audiences, and see the ability to hone in on a very specific demo as a plus. Marson also posited some media buy plusses for advertisers: ‘If you make a buy on The Boyz Channel and The Girlz Channel, you could reach [your target] more efficiently, in theory, than with the combined programs.’
Fully interactive Web sites that accompany the channels are also in the works (www. boyzchannel.com and www.girlzchannel.com), and are scheduled to launch early in 1999.