Although the kids arena is considered a separate entity from the rest of a network, the issue of audience erosion currently plaguing broadcasters has indeed trickled down. Network chiefs are joined by their kids counterparts in developing strategies to combat shrinking broadcast audiences.
A healthy rise in ratings for NBC’s Saturday morning TNBC block-up 11% in overall teens, 6% in female teens and a whopping 16% in male teens for fourth quarter `98 and first quarter `99-softens the viewership decline issue for Robin Schwartz, VP of Saturday morning programs and prime-time series. Still, the executive is loathe to rest on the laurels of a successful formula in light of the bleak overall picture for broadcast.
Schwartz’s strategy to stay on top this fall includes a 98% increase in ‘stunt casting’ of music, sports and other visiting teen celebrities on TNBC shows, a bolstered Web site presence, including more on-air/on-line tie-ins and an event in which teens log on to choose episodes they want shown in re-runs. In addition, a retail launch in which TNBC shows will have a presence in the teen department of a major retailer, a music CD release and the addition of interstitial animation Julia’s P.O.V. (see ‘Teen spills for animator dad,’ page 42), which features a teen girl heroine facing the day-to-day dramas of high school, have been implemented to continue TNBC’s brand growth among mainstream teens.
Continuing with its demonstration that one or two hits can drive an entire kids network-and stave off network erosion-Kids’ WB! is gearing up for fall as the exclusive home of Pokémon.
Donna Friedman, senior VP at Kids’ WB!, says: ‘We do feel positive going in to fall because we have hits. Pokémon has been amazing-it’s the little engine that could for us.’ Friedman adds that similar to hotties like Dawson’s Creek and Felicity in the WB’s prime-time lineup, Batman Beyond and Pokémon will serve as launching pads for the rest of the kids network. The other piece of that strategy going forward is Friedman’s ongoing search for products that, like Pokémon, have multimedia appeal. Joining the lineup in the fall are wrestling-based, live-action series On the Ropes and Detention, a new comedy from Warner Brothers TV Animation.
At ABC, fragmentation means capitalizing on the Disney brand to bolster the Saturday morning lineup. ‘This fall, we intend to play to our strengths,’ notes Jonathan Barzilay, senior VP and GM of ABC children’s programming. To do so, Disney will borrow on the franchise strength of ABC’s prime-time hit Sabrina the Teenage Witch and studio icon Mickey Mouse in two new animated series joining ABC on Saturday mornings: Sabrina the Animated Series and Disney’s Mickey MouseWorks. The latter, the first Mickey animated product since the 1950′s (see ‘Bringing up Mickey,’ page 49), will air in a time slot preceding The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Brand strength is also the strategy this fall at UPN, where Disney’s Whomptastic syndicated block is scheduled to premiere September 1. The block will contain Disney’s Hercules, Disney’s Doug, Sabrina the Animated Series and Disney’s Recess, with CGI-animated Buzz Lightyear, Star Command, a Walt Disney Television Animation series currently in production, joining the lineup in fall 2000. Disney’s Womptastic will air afternoons Sunday through Friday.
At Fox Kids, GM Maureen Smith says the limited time kids networks have on-air is seen as the biggest obstacle. Smith’s strategy is to fall back on the strength of Fox Kids’ long-standing brand identity-as well as its sister cable network, Fox Family Channel, which programs to kids from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Smith says the Fox Kids identity-’action-adventure and prankster-type comedy for kids’-is reflected in debuting series Woody Woodpecker, in which Woody personifies ‘the class clown who bends the rules but doesn’t break them.’ The new Spider-Man Unlimited and The Avengers animated series represent another aspect of the brand-fantasy and escapism, says Smith.
Despite somewhat soft ratings for its year-old, FCC-friendly kids block, CBS will continue with an all-Nelvana lineup this fall, adding new series Rescue Heroes, Blaster and The New Tales From the Cryptkeeper. To jump-start CBS’s fledgling children’s lineup-which the network views as a growing day part-fresh product such as CD-ROM-based Blaster, which follows the adventures of an earth boy and an alien girl, add a bit more edge to CBS’s kids fare. The network’s top three kids shows, Anatole, Flying Rhino Junior High and Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend, will return this fall.