Discovery to Lease NBC Kids Block

Looking to build its status in the kids market, Discovery Networks U.S. will offer tween-targeted programming Saturday mornings on NBC as part of a three-year deal the parties reached last week.

Discovery outbid Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, but both kids-oriented networks will most likely turn their attention to Fox Broadcasting Network, which is also looking to lease its Saturday morning children's block.

While terms were not disclosed, the deal is expected to net NBC about $6 million per year, sources close to the situation said. Beginning next fall, Discovery will lease the Saturday morning 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. block to air repurposed and original programming from its Discovery Kids digital cable service. The block could be reduced by a half-hour if NBC renews its current deal with the National Basketball Association and brings back the NBA-oriented weekly series Inside Stuff.

Discovery will sell the commercial inventory and retain all of the associated revenue, "which we will invest in the programming," Discovery Networks U.S. president Johnathan Rogers said.

"The advertising inventory on NBC, packaged with the advertising inventory on Discovery Kids, packaged with the kids-friendly programming on our other Discovery channels will allow us to make this a business that works for the entire company," he added.

The deal should provide added exposure for Discovery Kids, now in about 15 million households. "We believe that we will eventually be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with industry leaders like Nickelodeon, The WB and Disney," Rogers said. "With this added platform it will allow us to help our digital strategy and help cable operators around the country," he added.

Still unclear is how Discovery will program the block, but Discovery Kids senior vice president and general manager Marjorie Kaplan said it will most likely include current and originally developed programming targeting 6 to 11 and 9 to 14 year olds. Some of the network's more popular shows include Sail Away, in which kids take an unescorted sailing trip to the Caribbean, and Real Kids, Real Adventures
, which focuses on ordinary kids that do extraordinary things, Kaplan said.

The network is also looking to enter the animated realm for the first time, although none of the shows in development would be ready before fourth quarter 2002.

"We're in the middle of evaluating all of our programming options," Kaplan said. "We have a killer brand, we have strong programs on air and even stronger programming being developed, and now we have the platform to let everyone know about it," Kaplan said.

NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa said the network couldn't reach the target teen audience through its primetime programming to help market and promote its Saturday morning schedule. He also said NBC would have programmed the block with other content, save for the Federal Communication Communications network requirements for kids programming.

Sources said cable kid-programming leaders Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network also bid for the NBC block, although executives from neither company would comment on the matter.

Both networks, however, are contenders for Fox's Saturday morning kids block. Fox Broadcasting Co. vice president of corporate communications Scott Grogan said the network has taken several bids from a number of companies for the block, although he would not divulge specifics.

Like NBC, Fox's decision to lease its kid's programming block is economically driven. "Financially, it's the smart thing to do," he said.

While Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network would not comment on the Fox negotiations, Kaplan said that Discovery has no interest in the block. "We're happy where we are. We think this is a wonderful vehicle to be seen and a wonderful relationship with a terrific, high-quality broadcaster," she said.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.