Net abandons weekday p'gramming

Fox is getting out of the weekday kids business and will hand the two-hour afternoon block back to affiliates.

Fox Kids will still exist as a four-hour block on Saturdays. But affils will be allowed to start programming the 2-4 p.m. time period themselves starting Dec. 31.

The net retains the right to take back and program the afternoon block as long as it informs affiliates six months ahead of time. But network distribution prexy Robert Quicksilver said Fox won’t reclaim the two hours before next fall.

As the kids advertising marketplace continues to suffer, affiliates have been pressuring Fox for some time to drop the money-losing afternoon kids’ block. Quicksilver said the decision was “just a response to the difficult ad climate the stations are finding themselves in.”

Time was ripe

And now that ABC has completed its acquisition of Fox Family, which programmed the Fox Kids block, insiders said the timing made sense.

Quicksilver said the net would spend the next few months figuring out how to program the weekday afternoon slot. Affils are only three years into a 10-year deal with Fox that gives the network the right to program the 3-5 p.m. time period. As a sign of good faith, the net agreed to push that slot back by an hour in January.

Quicksilver said the move came with no quid pro quo attached.

“We’ve obviously taken a hard look at the kids time period for many years,” he said. “Revenues have declined in those periods. We’re doing this in the spirit of partnership with our affiliates.”

Fox will continue to feed affiliates episodes of “The Magic School Bus” to meet the FCC’s three-hour educational programming rule; they may slot the show at their discretion.

Meanwhile, Fox syndication arm Twentieth Television has been ramping up its program development at least since last year in anticipation of Fox’s acquisition of the Chris-Craft television stations and the possibility of the Fox Kids block going away.

In some cities, such as Gotham and Los Angeles, the Fox Kids block has moved from the Fox-affiliated owned station to the newly acquired Chris-Craft station.

Since joining Twentieth last year, company prexy-chief operations officer Bob Cook has been a proponent of testing programs regionally on Fox O&Os. His group has several projects in the hopper that could help fill time periods being vacated on Fox stations and affils.

(Melissa Grego contributed to this report.)

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