Redefining kids

With the 9-14 tween demo increasingly catching on with programmers and a 2-5 demo that is built on solid properties, one would think the 6-11 market would be on the wane. But with Nielsen still measuring the 6- to 11-year-old category, programmers still look to reach the grade-schooler.

At PBS, the younger kids in this group still enjoy Arthur and Clifford, as well as Zoom, says John F. Wilson, senior vice president of programming, East, for PBS. "Zoom features kids who are a little older, and it takes a look at real kids, what they like and what they're about," he says. "There's a point on the show when they talk about 'What was your most embarrassing moment?'Even my 6-year-old likes that.

"Zoom will soon be adding a local bent to its programming," Wilson notes. The new format will allow stations to lift segments and replace them with locally produced content. Stations will be able to decide how much local content, if any, they wish to add.

"The idea is to use a national show in a local way: say, Zoom in Cleveland," he continues. "There's a strong community-service aspect to it, which is perfect for PBS. Today, there are few independent stations that still produce local shows. National cable networks can't and won't do it. It's important for PBS to make use of that; it's smart, and it's in keeping with our public-service mission."

Fox has the luxury of having two networks that can go after boys and girls. Fox Family targets girls ages 6-11 and 9-14, while Fox Kids skews to boys ages 6-11. However, Joel Andryc, executive vice president of programming and development for Fox Family and Fox Kids, acknowledges that both younger and older kids tune in.

Fox Kids has a 75%-boys audience and programs accordingly, with a lot of action-adventure shows and prankster comedy. Hits include The Power Rangers, which is in its 10th season, and Digimon: Digital Monsters, which is riding a wave of popularity using Japanese animation.

Fox Family isn't meant to compete with Fox Kids. The 3-year-old network skews about 60% girls, with perhaps the most important show involving the Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley.

"They're more than a show to us; they're a franchise," says Andryc. "We can present the concept that this is the Olsen twins'network. We're even getting some boys watching, now that the girls are 14."

Nickelodeon switches from Nick Jr. to its Nick programming-shows aimed at older kids-after 2 p.m. In this block, the highest-rated show is Rugrats, a network staple for a decade (and now found on everything from lunch boxes to movie screens). SpongeBob SquarePants, an animated show about the adventures of a sea sponge and his undersea pals, in its second season, is emerging as a strong performer, according to Cyma Zarghami, executive vice president and general manager of Nickelodeon. "Great characters withstand the test of time," she says." Rugrats is a special example of a show that has something for everyone. It's been on the air for 10 years and is the highest-rated property in kids television for the last three years."

At Disney, afternoon Zoog Disney programming targets and garners mostly older kids but definitely attracts kids from this group, as well. Top shows for the network during this time slot are Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens, The Jersey
and The Famous Jett Jackson. All are live-action shows featuring teen characters.

"In my book, you can't predict a hit as much as build for success," says Rich Ross, Disney Channel's general manager and executive vice president of programming and production. "To borrow a phrase, quality is job one. We know we can't scrimp. But in cable, you also have to be smart."

Cartoon Network's prime time ratings increased 13% last year, with numbers driven by the expansion of original programming.

"We tend to write shows that work for our core 6- to 11-year-old audience but also incorporate humor that works on a variety of levels," says Tim Hall, executive vice president. "While we don't want to be inappropriate or too clever for the 6-11 kids, our focus works for older kids, too. Other networks have said they're focusing on younger kids. And there's plenty of room for the preschool audience, but that's not where we're headed."

An example of the new shows that appeal to both kids and adults is Powerpuff Girls, one of the network's most popular originals. And like the Looney Tunes cartoons, it's designed to offer different appeal to old and young.