UPN, Disney in kidvid block deal

Net abandons weekday afternoon schedule

UPN and Buena Vista TV inked a four-year deal late Thursday to air a two-hour block of Disney-branded kids programming on the netlet six days a week starting in fall 1999.

Talks between the two companies began in January at the National Assn. of TV Program Executives confab, but broke down soon after. UPN then began negotiations for a similar kids block with its sister cable network, Nickelodeon.

“Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to make the best deal for UPN,” Valentine said. “Nickelodeon could not deliver the kind of quality programming at the volume we needed until the year 2000. That was a problem for me.”

Valentine was always partial to a Disney deal because he helped develop many of the series there when he was president of Walt Disney TV and Walt Disney TV animation.

When it bows next year, the UPN-Disney kids block will feature episodes of “Disney’s Recess,” a series that bowed last fall to strong ratings on ABC’s Disney-branded Saturday morning slate, where it will continue to air originals. Other skeins now airing on ABC that could make the UPN block include “Disney’s Doug,” “Disney’s Pepper Ann” and the upcoming TV take on “Hercules.”

“We are committed to being a full-service broadcast network and to bring as many people as possible into the tent, and that means kids, too,” Valentine said. “The worst mistake broadcasters have made is to cede kids to cable by airing bad programming. We’re reversing that neglect.”

For UPN, the deal is essentially risk-free. The netlet will share in the national advertising revenue derived from the block, in addition to harvesting some additional coin from BVTV for carrying the block.

“There’s enormous value for them to reach so much of the country in one shot with their programming,” Valentine said. “We’re providing them with something they could not get elsewhere.”

The deal is something of a network-syndication hybrid, and it’s also further evidence of a shrinking marketplace for syndie children’s programming. Buena Vista launched its “Disney Afternoon” syndie programming block in 1990. But when UPN and the WB netlets launched their own children’s blocks, the available timeslots for syndie fare dwindled.

Under its new deal with UPN, Buena Vista will essentially move its syndie block onto the netlet. BVTV will still syndicate the block in markets where UPN doesn’t have affiliates.

Like a standard barter syndie deal, BVTV and UPN affils will split 50-50 the advertising time in each hour. BVTV will sell its share of the ad time to national advertisers, with UPN sharing in a percentage of that national ad revenue in exchange for providing the bulk of the clearances.

As was the case with the “Disney Afternoon,” BVTV will produce 52 episodes of original programming, or one half-hour series, for the block each year. The rest of the block will be filled out by recent off-ABC series and other evergreen Disney cartoons. Kellogg will remain on board as a primary sponsor of the block.

Buena Vista TV prexy Mort Marcus says the deal with UPN is a boon for Disney animation because between UPN and ABC’s Saturday morning slate, the studio will have a daily presence on TV, like its chief competitors, the Fox Kids Network and the Kids’ WB!

“We believe from a clearance standpoint we’ll be able to compete again,” said Marcus. “It’s been awhile since we’ve been on level footing with Fox and WB.”

UPN affiliates will be required to air the kids programming as a two-hour block, Monday through Friday and on Sunday, but they will have the freedom to air it in the morning or afternoon.

Not all UPN affiliates are thrilled with the deal, given that the kids business is a tough one now and ad dollars are scarce. Valentine believes that having the Disney brand and quality shows will more than offset those worries.