Recently launched kids broadcast service BKN is riding the coattails of one of last season’s biggest hits to give it an edge at the starting block.
George Baratta, president of network advertiser sales, doesn’t hesitate to admit that new BKN series Monster Rancher is inspired by the success of Pokémon in U.S. syndication and on Kids’ WB! last season. Like Pokémon, Monster Rancher has a Japanese animation look, includes monsters, and evolved from a video game that generated a merchandising windfall in Japan. The series, from Tokyo’s TMS-Kyokuichi Corporation, uses digital animation, and BKN has picked up 26 half hours with an option on another 26. BKN has also snapped up worldwide merchandising rights to the TV series in all territories excluding Asia, and Playmates Toys has already signed on as U.S. master toy licensee. The series will lead off the boy-targeted Bulldog TV’s weekday morning block, which airs from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday to Friday.
Next in Bulldog’s weekday sked is Starship Troopers: Bug Wars. The CGI series, based on the novel and 1997 live-action film, has built-in awareness among kids following the movie, says Baratta. Sony Pictures Family Entertainment Group is producing 40 half hours.
On Sunday, Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths & Legends steals Bulldog’s best weekend slot, closing the two-hour block. The first production from BKN’s L.A.-based studio, the series consists of 40 cel-animated half hours, and will appeal to kids with an interest in science fiction.
Tough guy John J. Rambo will appear in Rambo-The Animated Series at 7:30 a.m. Sunday on Bulldog TV. BKN has acquired 65 cel-animated half hours, co-produced by Ruby Spears in Glendale, California, and Paris-based Canal+. Baratta expects Street Sharks, a consistently strong performer since it began as part of BKN’s syndicated kids TV blocks in 1995 (the series did not run in 1997), to draw a larger audience than Rambo, and has therefore given it the 8 a.m. Sunday slot.
BKN’s second programming block, a wide-targeted service that will carry generic BKN network branding for 1999/2000, is drawing more heavily on BKN’s library, ushering in just two new series.
Sonic Underground leads the second service’s weekday, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. block. The series builds on BKN’s successful track record with Sonic the Hedgehog, which BKN began airing in syndication in 1993. Given the renewed interest in Sonic with the introduction of the Sega Dreamcast video game system and a new Sonic title for that system this fall, ‘it was logical to refresh the show,’ says Baratta. The 40 x half-hour, cel-animated series introduces Sonic’s brother and sister and has an original soundtrack. DIC Entertainment and France’s Les Studios Tex and TF1 are co-producers.
New to BKN, but well known to kids, is educational live-action series Beakman’s World, a former kids TV staple on CBS. BKN has picked up the 91 existing half hours from Sony Pictures Family Entertainment Group, and will air them at 8:30 a.m. Monday to Friday.
Baratta estimates BKN’s total expenditure on new 1999/2000 programming is about US$50 million to US$60 million for the six series.
With Kids’ WB! on the air Monday to Friday mornings, BKN’s biggest scheduling challenge is Monster Rancher. Since some stations carrying Bulldog are WB affiliates, BKN is encouraging those stations (which are splitting the two hours in Bulldog’s weekday schedule to air before and after the Kids’ WB! hour) to air Monster Rancher right before or after Pokémon. In markets where the station carrying Bulldog competes with a WB affiliate, stations will have the flexibility to switch the order of the Monday to Friday lineup.
Monster Rancher is getting BKN’s biggest initial marketing push. The network is buying local commercial time for the series, and may do the same for Sonic Underground and Roswell Conspiracies. A ‘Monster Rancher Madness’ sweepstakes begins September 29, and invites kids to send in a photo of themselves, which BKN will ‘monsterize’ and return to them. Beginning October 31, BKN will draw a daily winner, whose photo will be shown on-air. The contest runs into the first quarter of 2000. Starship Troopers will be supported with a to-be-announced promotion, likely with one of BKN’s major national advertisers, and Roswell Conspiracies will kick off with a first-quarter 2000 promotion.