Congloms focus on coveted kids programming

While the quantity of youth-oriented programs has exploded in recent years, the number of entities controlling children’s broadcasting in the U.S. has decreased with consolidation. As a result, the dominant outlets for kids programming are operated by a handful of conglomerates such as AOL Time Warner, Viacom/CBS and Disney/ABC.

Other than the virtually nonexistent syndication market, the only independent airwaves remaining are those of PBS, which has turned to international co-productions, sponsorships and merchandising revenues to finance its operations.

However fragmented and elusive the youth audience may be, kid eyeballs are some of the most coveted in the business. Cablers and networks are bringing out a record 33 new shows this season trying to woo young viewers.

Tweens and teens are the most targeted demo this season, with 11 programs premiering this fall aimed specifically at the 9-14 set. Spies, secret agents and detective themes are big this year, and more female protagonists are emerging, particularly in the teen arena. Two new shows, “Totally Spies” (Fox Family) and “Mary-Kate and Ashley in Action” (ABC), cover three of those demo bases.

NBC has been targeting teens for years with its tNBC block, which will include a new show this year, “All About Us,” featuring a female lead.

Fox Family remains committed to its goal of being a teen destination on cable, and has had success with “Braceface” and “So Little Time,” two new programs that have been nabbing strong shares of girl viewers all summer.

The Disney Channel has been attracting tweens to its Zoog Disney block, and for the first time, it is introducing two cable-originated shows, “Lizzie McGuire” and “Even Stevens,” to sister broadcast net ABC, echoing similar actions by CBS and Nickelodeon.

Jonathan Barzilay, senior vice president and general manager of ABC Kids and Toon Disney hopes the move will build the Alphabet’s audience in the 9-14 demo and “allow those viewers to follow these shows back to Disney Channel.”

The Disney Channel is rolling out “The Proud Family,” a new animated show with an African-American teen girl lead. The show launches with 21 episodes, a tall first-season order.

“On cable, with older kids, that’s when you make the investment,” explains Rich Ross, Disney Channel’s G.M.

Nickelodeon is hoping to extend its TeeNick viewership to Saturday night with “The Nick Cannon Show,” starring the host of the Sunday teen-programming block.

Like the rest of the airwaves, reality is all over the kids channels. New programs “Totally in Tune” (Disney Channel) and “Moolah Beach” (Fox Family) continue the teen reality-genre trend set by “Real Scary Stories,” which returns to Fox Family for its second season.

Kids never seem to tire of being spooked, and Kids WB! will be scaring them with “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine’s new show, “The Nightmare Room.”

In the sci-fi vein, Fox Kids is introducing “Alienators: Evolution Continues” and “Medabots.”

Nickelodeon will be the only channel already offering preschool fare to add such a show, “Oswald,” which will go to Nick Jr. and CBS’ Saturday mornings, which will also add “Bob the Builder.”

In October, Nickelodeon will direct the preschool set to primetime for a special five-part “Blue’s Clues” series, “Blue’s Big News,” in which a new baby will join the cast, and actress and mom Lisa Kudrow will be featured.

PBS Kids is offering two new programs with female leads targeting younger girls by dealing with issues of identity and independence: “Sagwa the Siamese Chinese Cat” and “Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series.”

Looking to 2002, PBS will be taking dead aim at after-school boys-action viewers with “Cyberchase,” which has extensive online interactivity. John F. Wilson, PBS senior vice president and co-chief program executive, says it is “taking the passive medium of television and allowing the kids to interact with it in a meaningful way.”

After school, boys really do rule the airwaves on Kids WB!, Fox Kids and Cartoon Network, all of which are introducing new action shows to their lineups.

“We try not to use the word ‘action,’ we prefer ‘high-adventure, humor and heart,’” says Donna Friedman, executive veep, Kids WB!, which is adding five new programs to its lineup this fall, including two Japanese anime series.

Cartoon Network is debuting the highly anticipated “Justice League” in November, and Dea Perez, VP of programming, says, “It’s the first time since ‘Powerpuff Girls’ that I’ve felt this kind of buzz about a show.”

Fox Kids is mixing prankster comedy into the action with “The Ripping Friends,” from “Ren & Stimpy” creator Jon Kricfalusi.

Maureen Smith, prexy of Fox Family Channel and Fox Kids says boy-oriented high-energy action adventures are performing the best on Fox Kids, but, she adds, “Kids are always looking for something new, something fresh and original. Why did ‘Pokemon’ and ‘Digimon’ take off? Because there was nothing else like it on the air at that time.

“Word of mouth on the playground is extremely important,” she adds. “It’s just like water-cooler talk. If you’ve got something great, kids will find it.”

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