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Don’t Give Up On the Kids

Kids TV, which used to be a station staple, is now dominated by 24-hour cable networks and has been relegated to something that most TV stations do only because the FCC requires it of them. But for some distributors, that law has created an opportunity.

For example, this fall, independently owned Litton Entertainment will begin providing educational and informative (E/I) programming for the ABC-owned stations and affiliates. Litton has signed a five-year deal to provide six halfhours of E/I programming to ABC’s 200 owned and affiliate stations.

“I approach Saturday morning the same way that Lorne Michaels once approached Saturday night,” says Dave Morgan, Litton president and CEO. “He took an area that had become a dead zone and turned it into a massive asset. I love this opportunity.”

Litton has long been the distributor of Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures, and that show will be a part of the new block, says Morgan. The company is developing five other half-hour shows, including Ocean Mysteries, which fall into three categories: the Earth and sustainability; culture and technology; and health and fitness. Morgan plans to announce the shows, which will target teens aged 13 to 16 and their parents, at an ABC affiliates meeting in May.

“What I’m hoping this ABC block does is elevate and change the kids TV game,” says Morgan. “I hope it will create viewing for 13-to-16-yearolds that includes the entire family.”

Programming to older kids also helps TV stations in a couple of ways. First, advertising regulations are much less strict when it comes to older kids. And it’s easier to move around older-skewing kids’ programs that get preempted for sports and other events than it is to move cartoons, for example, to later dayparts.

That’s the approach that the Fox TV stations took after the Fox network fi nally exited the kids TV business in 2008. Fox gave back an hour of time to its affiliates, and filled the other two hours with paid programming. All TV stations, including digital secondary channels, have to adhere to the requirements of the 1990 Children’s TV Act, however, so Fox fills its three hours with educational shows aimed at younger teens, such as Steve Rotfeld’s AwesomeAdventures and Albert Primo’s Teen Kids News.

Each year, Fox acquires 11 to 12 shows from smaller syndicators to fill those slots. “It’s extremely important for us to put on quality programming while making sure we adhere to the rules,” says Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for Fox Television Stations.

Like Morgan, Cookie Jar Entertainment President Toper Taylor believes there’s opportunity for syndicators in the mostly vacated kids TV space on TV stations. Cookie Jar programs three-hour weekly kids’ blocks for the CBS and Sinclair stations, a weekday morning kids’ strip for This TV, and syndicates kids programs to other interested TV stations.

“Broadcasters may be missing an opportunity by not re-looking at kids TV after Fox, CW and UPN turned off the lights on their Monday- through-Friday kids television presence,” says Taylor. “I think there is an opportunity for one network to have a six-to-seven-day-aweek presence that is financially successful.”

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