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Cable Brands are Supreme in 'Kids' Programming

As a new kids' Saturday-morning season kicked off in mid-September, cable's profile in what was once a bastion of broadcasting is continuing to grow.

Years ago, Nickelodeon jumped to the head of the class, and sister Viacom Inc. network CBS now airs some of the kidvid kingpin's fare. Now, with significant assists from Disney Channel and Discovery Networks U.S., both ABC and NBC are rebranding the daypart — as "ABC Kids" and "Discovery Kids on NBC," respectively.

And both programmers are mobilizing their internal media assets — along with some external media — for heavy promotional salvos to support the premieres of their respective kids' lineups.

Discovery Kids vice president of marketing Laura Sullivan said the plan for its Saturday-morning block — which bows on Oct. 5 — calls for a 15-market spot-cable buy (on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and ABC Family); ads in Nickelodeon, National Geographic for Kids
and TV Guide
magazines and on various kids' Web sites; and a 30-second spot in movie theaters.

In addition, signage and a looped promotional tape will be placed in Discovery Channel's 170 retail stores, she said.

NBC's new children's slate will include Prehistoric Planet, Croc Files
and Operation Junkyard. The three shows are adaptations of Discovery Channel's Walking With Dinosaurs, Animal Planet's Crocodile Hunter
and The Learning Channel's Junkyard Wars, respectively.

ABC's rebranding, effective Sept. 14, of a block once called "Disney's One Saturday Morning," oddly enough, comes as the network adds more fare from Disney Channel to its lineup. And the Disney name isn't just being applied to TV and cable shows (including Disney's Fillmore, which is new to ABC), but to films such as Disney's The Rookie.

Until now, ABC Kids was the name used by The Walt Disney Co. to identify its combined television-and-cable kids' fare to the ad community and trade press.

"We look at ABC as a showcase for the best programs from our [various] kids' platforms," said ABC Kids senior vice president and general manager Jonathan Barzilay in explaining the rationale behind both the repurposing and the rebranding efforts.

"We felt it was time to update [the kids' lineup] to be in line with other dayparts — [identified as] ABC News, ABC Sports, ABC Daytime," he added.

Toon Disney shows Teamo Supremo
and Recess
fill in ABC's Saturday slate from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., except for Fillmore
at 9 a.m.

Three tween-appeal Disney Channel shows —Lizzie McGuire,
and the new-to-ABC The Proud Family
and Kim Possible
— air from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., while two episodes of ABC Family's Power Rangers: Wild Force
occupy the 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. span. (ABC Family's Digimon
will replace one of those installments on Nov. 30.

Advertising crossover

Repurposing aside, the migrated Disney Channel fare will produce new revenue streams for its corporate parent. While the cable service is ad-free, spots are airing during the plays on ABC.

That inventory —and NBC's alliance with Discovery Kids — may well have bolstered buyer interest during the recently concluded kids' upfront marketplace.

"The availability of these popular series on commercial TV is indeed attractive to advertisers," said Barzilay.

And Barzilay countered cable operators's reluctance to see what had been medium-specific fare go to broadcast by making note of the greater exposure for the shows — and, ultimately, for Disney Channel.

"We began experimenting last year, when Lizzie McGuire
and Even Stevens
joined ABC. We found that that worked for both platforms," he said. "Those shows were exposed to a lot of viewers who had not yet found them on cable."

Besides drawing additional Nielsen Media Research ratings to the cable side, he said, the repurposing strategy "helped age-up our [ABC] audience" by attracting tweens and teens to the mix.

For his part, Discovery Kids vice president of ad sales Ken Ripley is also sanguine about his company's place on Saturday morning, in terms of both the ad market and scheduling.

"We're pleased with the way the upfront turned out — no question about that," he said.

Ripley said that Discovery's Oct. 5 start "could be an advantage" since its core audience — kids aged 8 to 12 and some older "tweens" — should be drawn to something new.

"We're all live-action, versus animation everywhere else," he noted.

Promos hit peak

Seven of ABC's shows have a shared broadcast-and-cable window. As a result, the rebranding is the biggest cross-promotion initiative yet for its networks.

There will be different promos for ABC and for the cable networks, said Barzilay, and different promotions will target boys and girls. Touting "never-before-seen episodes," the boy-appeal Power Rangers
spot is heavily rotated during ABC Family's 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. boy block, he said.

A second boy-oriented promo features Fillmore, Teamo Supremo, Recess, Power Rangers
and NBA Inside Stuff
(which, along with the National Basketball Association, migrates from NBC).
A spot for the girl-oriented Kim Possible
will get frequent runs on Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire .
In addition, ABC will use its Saturday-morning shows to promote Kim Possible
outings on Disney Channel, while Disney sets aside a nightly promo to tout Lizzie McGuire's latest ABC stint, he said. Toon Disney is running promos on Teamo Supremo's new ABC Saturday slot.

There are also ad schedules on Radio Disney, the Times Square Jumbotron, spot cable and kid's-appeal magazines and Internet sites. ABC is also launching www.abckids.com
as a companion Web site.