NEW YORK — Rupert Murdoch took the first step in bringing some management discipline to his children’s programming empire by naming Margaret Loesch to the post of vice chairman of Fox Kids Worldwide.
Sources say Murdoch’s plan is to use Fox Kids Worldwide as the umbrella organization for three divisions: the Fox Kids Network, whose main responsibility is the distribution of 19 hours a week of children’s shows on Fox stations; Saban Entertainment, one of the largest syndicators of kid shows, with 12 series in production for 1997-98; and the Family Channel, which Fox Kids Worldwide bought last month for $1.9 billion.
To take on her new assignment, Loesch will relinquish her current dual titles: chairman and CEO of Fox Kids Networks Worldwide and president of Fox Kids Worldwide.
Haim Saban, chairman and CEO of Saban Entertainment, will also continue as chairman and CEO of Fox Kids Worldwide, assuming “a more active role in the management of the day-to-day operations,” according to a spokesman.
Saban’s more active role in Fox Kids Worldwide, the spokesman says, will allow Loesch to step back and focus on the big picture, particularly when it comes to integrating the Family Channel into the total operation.
The goal of Murdoch and Saban, who are 50-50 partners in Fox Kids Worldwide, is to transform the Family Channel into a major competitor to Nickelodeon, which collects more annual cash flow — an estimated $259 million in 1997 — than any other cable network except ESPN, according to Paul Kagan Associates. Sources say by the fall of 1998, Family could be running children’s shows every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., teen-oriented series from 6 to 8 p.m. and all-family programming in primetime and latenight.
A cable strategy has become important to Fox Kids because the Nielsen ratings for children’s programming on the broadcast networks have shown a steady decline over the past few years, mirroring the primetime falloff in audience of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.
Loesch’s more immediate mission will be to find a president for the Fox Kids Network and for the Family Channel, according to the spokesman.
The Fox Kids Network includes more than the 19 hours a week of children’s shows on Fox, four hours of which run on Saturday morning and the rest on weekday mornings and afternoons. It also creates satellite-delivered programming blocks in Australia, the United Kingdom and Latin America. The network also produces a weekly radio program, “Fox Kids Countdown,” that reaches more than 215 stations in the U.S. And Fox publishes and distributes the quarterly kids magazine Totally Kids.