Less than one week before the scheduled Halloween launch ofFox Family Worldwide Inc.'s boyzChannel and girlzChannel, the digi-nets apparently have nocarriage deals with top MSOs or satellite providers.
Fox Family had hoped to distribute the kids' networks ondigital tiers, but AT&T Broadband & Internet Services' Headend in the Sky and TimeWarner Cable's AthenaTV -- the two largest digital-cable platforms -- haven't agreed tolaunch the channels, spokesmen said.
AT&T Broadband and Time Warner officials saidnegotiations with Fox are ongoing.
Cox Communications Inc. -- which had about 100,000digital-cable customers as of March 31 -- also said it hasn't reached a deal forboyzChannel and girlzChannel.
DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp., the leadingdirect-broadcast satellite operators, said they haven't agreed to carry the two networks.Neither DBS firm ruled out picking up the channels later.
Network brass remained optimistic last week. Fox FamilyChannels CEO Rich Cronin said the company is in the final stages of negotiations withcable and satellite players, and it expects to announce carriage this week.
"We expect to beat our business plan in terms ofdistribution," Cronin said, predicting that the channels would pass the 1million-subscriber mark by the first quarter.
To do so, boyzChannel and girlzChannel will have to maketheir mark amid an already crowded kids' market that includes more established newcomerssuch as The Walt Disney Co.'s Toon Disney and Noggin, an educational network owned byViacom Inc. and Children's Television Workshop.
Toon Disney launched last year with 5 million subscribers,and it has grown to 15 million. Noggin launched last year with 1.2 million subscribers(most through an EchoStar carriage deal), and it now counts 4.2 million.
"A good idea still somehow rises to the top,"Noggin general manager Tom Ascheim said, discussing how Noggin was able to gain carriageat a time when all new networks are vying for few open spots on cable systems.
Noggin still hasn't reached a carriage deal with DirecTV,but the channel is set to launch on HITS' " Three-Pack" next month. Ascheimpredicted that the channel will count 15 million to 20 million subscribers by the end ofnext year.
The key launch strategy for Toon Disney and other newnetworks is to first shop the channels to the top eight cable and satellite providers,Disney Channel senior vice president of sales and marketing Charlie Nooney said.
"Consolidation has made it where you really go toseven or eight places to get the majority of your subscriber base," Nooney added,recalling, "It used to be 20 to 30 places" that he would target only a few yearsago.
The days leading up to a channel launch, when negotiationsoften go down to the wire, are the toughest, Nooney said. "The weeks before launchare hectic and nerve-racking, and you find more hair on your pillow every morning when youget up. It's a very stressful time," he added.
Daytime programming for boyzChannel and girlzChannelincludes original programming from the Fox Family Worldwide library, targeting kids agedtwo through 14 on each respective channel. Evening programming will target parents, withshows like Parentz101 and Bringing Up Boys.
The Web sites haven't generated enough traffic to bemeasured by Media Metrix Inc., the top Internet-ratings service, a company spokesman saidlast week.
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