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Ion Media gets positively charged by kids programming

IF the already jam-packed U.S. kids TV market appears to be changing at a rapid clip, just wait until September. That's when the newest kids destination will hit the ground running with three weekend blocks (in English and Spanish), a 24-hour diginet, a weekly strip, VOD services and an integrated website. It's a massive undertaking by West Palm Beach, Florida's ION Media Networks (formerly Paxson Communications), especially since the broadcast and cabsat distribution group has never before dabbled in kids programming. But Brandon Burgess, CEO at ION, says kids is one of the few categories that has potential to be profitable, and believes there's a lot of good programming that isn't being picked up in the States.
June 1, 2006

IF the already jam-packed U.S. kids TV market appears to be changing at a rapid clip, just wait until September. That’s when the newest kids destination will hit the ground running with three weekend blocks (in English and Spanish), a 24-hour diginet, a weekly strip, VOD services and an integrated website. It’s a massive undertaking by West Palm Beach, Florida’s ION Media Networks (formerly Paxson Communications), especially since the broadcast and cabsat distribution group has never before dabbled in kids programming. But Brandon Burgess, CEO at ION, says kids is one of the few categories that has potential to be profitable, and believes there’s a lot of good programming that isn’t being picked up in the States.

With a pre-existing relationship in hand (NBC owned a third of Paxson until a couple of years ago), Burgess made a strategic call to the Peacock net when its execs were evaluating whether or not to renew its Saturday morning deal with Discovery Kids. Marc Graboff, NBC Universal Television Group’s west coast president, says his team was also independently approached by a number of production companies about creating a new block. But ION’s pitch to create a 24-hour diginet with NBC encouraged bigger discussions with some of these key prodcos. Burgess says Scholastic’s retail and educational brand presence, Nelvana’s developed content and distribution systems and Classic’s library, made them ideal partners.

‘Smart Place for Kids’ will take over NBC’s three-hour Saturday morning block, while ION Media’s network of analogue channels, currently being delivered to 90-million homes, will broadcast the programming during the week. NBC’s sister net, Telemundo, is slated to air Spanish-language programming under the same ‘Smart Place’ umbrella for one-and-a-half hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Although programming has yet to be formalized, Graboff says it will likely skew preschool and be culled initially from the partners’ catalogues. ‘It will fill a vacuum when Nick Jr. leaves CBS,’ he says, adding advertising will probably be in the form of sponsorships à la PBS. ‘We’re going to be discriminating and cautious when it comes to over-commercializing,’ Burgess adds. ‘Our goal isn’t to have a billion dollars in revenue any time soon, so we can be more selective on commercial support.’

As for the 24-hour diginet, expect to see programming from the partners that appeals to a broad range of demos, and it won’t necessarily be sponsorship based. The initial schedule should also feature programming from the team’s libraries. But once the networks are operational, Graboff says he’s looking forward to adding original programming, including acquisitions and/or possible co-pros with the participating companies.

At press time, interviews for programming execs were underway. The successful candidates will cherry-pick series for ‘Smart Place’ schedules and answer to the network’s five partners. Programming details, official start dates, and executive hires are expected to be announced over the summer.

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