Network shutting down Kids' WB! franchise

The last network out on Saturday mornings, the CW is turning off the lights.

The CW announced late Tuesday it will shut down the nearly 13-year-old Kids’ WB! franchise at the end of this season and turn Saturday mornings over to 4Kids Entertainment, which has handled Fox’s Saturday morning kids block for the past six years.

Under the five-year pact, 4Kids will program five hours of children’s programming between 7 a.m. and noon on Saturdays on the CW starting September 2008. 4Kids will handle all national commercial advertising, and will share in ad revenue with the CW. The CW’s share will be applied against a guarantee 4Kids will pay the net.

“This is a great transaction for both the CW and 4Kids Entertainment,” said CW chief operating officer John Maatta, who said 4Kids offered “substantial resources and laser-focus in this arena.”

Kids’ WB! had seen its workforce drop to 10 staffers, mostly in marketing; the CW said it would try to find new positions from those displaced by the move.

Kids’ WB! repped the last inhouse Saturday morning network block to air original kids’ fare. Once a staple of the broadcast nets alongside daytime and latenight, the webs mostly eliminated the timeslot by the turn of the decade. ABC now runs repeats from the Disney Channel, while NBC, CBS and Fox have already farmed out the timeslot to outside licensees.

“The last number of years have seen significant consolidation in the world of kids’ programming,” Maatta said.

In dumping the block, the nets have said they found it hard to compete against 24-hour cable networks, while the kids’ ad marketplace has softened over the past decade. More recently, the government crackdown on food advertising geared toward kids — which led to marketers like Kellogg’s dropping out of the space completely — also hit the area hard, according to CW insiders.

Warner Bros. TV Group prexy Bruce Rosenblum said the company examined the Saturday morning issue “closely with our partners at CBS,” and ultimately decided leasing the space to 4Kids made the most business sense.

For example, by farming out Saturday morning, the net believes it can focus more ad sales energy toward the online world.

Rosenblum added that the move does not signify a retreat from the kids space by Warner Bros. Animation, which he said would continue to produce for cable, direct-to-DVD, broadband and wireless. The company recently announced the launch next spring of T-Works, an online animation platform.

“We absolutely intend to stay true to our heritage,” he said. “This is an important business that touches many of the Warner Bros. divisions, and we have confidence that Lisa Judson and her team at Warner Bros. Animation will continue to build toward future opportunities.”

Meanwhile, Fox has two years left on its deal with 4Kids, which means the children’s entertainment and merchandise licensing company will program two different Saturday morning blocks next year.

Said 4Kids Prods. prexy Norman Grossfel, “We have tremendous faith in Saturday morning kids television, and with this deal, we’ve renewed our commitment to remain a major player in children’s entertainment.”

Kids’ WB! launched in 1995 alongside the WB weblet, and earlier this decade — fueled by the “Pokemon” craze and the departure of rival nets in the timeslot — rose to the No. 1 spot among kids 2-11. More recently, Kids’ WB! has ranked No. 2 in the daypart, behind ABC (which now airs repeats from the Disney Channel on Saturday mornings).

Coincidentally, 4Kids distribbed “Pokemon” to Kids WB!, as well as another hit, “Yu-Gi-Oh!”

“We think the CW’s outstanding affiliate lineup and young target demographic make the network a perfect fit for our programming and business initiatives,” 4Kids Entertainment chairman/CEO Alfred Kahn said.

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