Kids' Network Grows Up

The DIC Kids' Network will grow into the DIC Teen Network next year when the weekly syndicated three-hour programming block shifts its target audience from kids age 6-11 to teens 12-17. DIC Entertainment Chairman/CEO Andy Heyward says a new slate of six 30-minute original live-action series is in the works for fall 2007 and could be announced by January's National Association of Television Program Executives conference in Las Vegas.

The new fare will replace cartoons drawn from the DIC library of 2,800 half-hour animated episodes and will continue to meet the Federal Communications Commission's mandated minimum of three hours per week of educational and informational programming aimed at children under the age of 18.

The change came at the behest of stations, with Tribune Broadcasting leading the charge. Tribune is the main broadcast partner on the DIC Kids' Network, and its syndication and barter division, Tribune Entertainment Co. (TEC), has sold the three minutes of national advertising time for each 30-minute program in the block (with stations getting the remaining three minutes in lieu of paying license fees).

“It's hard for stations to sell local time against kids 6-11,” Heyward says. “Since there is little appetite for kids shows at the local-advertising level, stations have expressed to us their desire to turn this into the DIC Teen Network.”

Because advertisers like toy companies and fast-food brands focus their kid-targeted advertising on cable and, to a lesser extent, national broadcast, “local has pretty much dried up,” says L. Clark Morehouse III, executive VP/general manager of TEC.

“Other than the 10 weeks prior to Christmas, local television stations have trouble making money with animation,” Morehouse says. “This is the next evolution. TV stations will be able to monetize their inventory better than with animation.”

Soon after launching in September 2003, DIC Kids' Network ran on as many as 450 affiliates, either in morning or afternoon strips during the week or as a three-hour branded block on weekends. But that number has dwindled to around 300, spurring DIC's new focus on the elusive and valuable teen audience.

Heyward does not expect clearances for the network to decrease when The WB and UPN merge into The CW later this month, since stations still need to meet the FCC requirements.

Last January, DIC retained TEC to expand national distribution of the network after formerly handling it in-house. Once Tribune signs off on the new programming slate, DIC will need to devise a strategy to market the shows to teens.

Previously, the company relied on viral efforts to promote the Kids' Network, including e-mail blasts and maintaining a strong presence on kid-oriented Websites with big online communities, such as the DIC-owned

Heyward won't say whether future Web promotions will involve teen destinations like social-networking site

For DIC, which has expanded into numerous branded-management initiatives this year, the move toward more original syndicated programming follows its deal with CBS to start supplying a three-hour Saturday-morning children's block of animated/live-action programs starting Sept. 16.

DIC replaces Nickelodeon as CBS' exclusive supplier now that the Viacom-owned cable network is no longer a corporate sibling of CBS.