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Fox, affils shuffle kids programming

Deal swaps morning slots for afternoon ad inventory

FROM NATPE
NEW ORLEANS — Fox and its affiliates reached an agreement Sunday allowing stations to drop an hour of weekday morning kids programming in exchange for returning a chunk of ad inventory in the afternoon kids block to the network.

Starting with the 1999-2000 season, Fox Kids Network will supply just two hours of weekday afternoon kids programming, and stations will have an extra hour in the morning to program locally with news or syndicated fare. Most stations had aired the morning kids hour from 7-8 a.m.

Murray Green, chairman of the Fox affiliate board, said the deal would give stations a better lead-in to their adult morning fare.

“We’re all smiling,” he said. “Last year there was a little tension over football and children’s programming. This year that has dissipated.”

Kids programming has been a ticklish issue among affils over the past year because ratings have decreased and ad dollars for kids programming are drying up.

In the past, some affils have suggested moving the kids block entirely onto cable, but Fox feels it’s important to maintain kids circulation at the network level in order to build hits and its young viewer base.

The move to cut back by an hour in the morning could be a boon to syndicators trying to sell shows to Fox affiliates and O&Os.

“It certainly opens up time periods for syndicators who are still having a tough time clearing programming,” said Barry Baker, CEO-designate of Sinclair Communications. “This allows affiliates to get a fair shot on the (NATPE) floor. It’s a chance to make some additional revenue and launch some shows that will work.”

Chase Carey, CEO of Fox TV, said Fox remains totally committed to the kids business. While the network is getting additional ad inventory in the peak afternoon hours, the spots are ones the stations had trouble selling anyway, Baker said.

Fox will continue to supply the three hours of weekly educational programming that stations are required by the FCC to air. One educational hour will air in the weekday afternoon block, and stations will have the flexibility to schedule the other two hours when and where they want.

Stations will keep all the ad time in the two educational hours that aren’t part of the regular afternoon lineup.

Fox Kids Network won’t announce its new kids lineup until the kids upfront next month, but one source said Claster’s syndicated “Beast Wars” is likely to move out of syndication and onto the FKN lineup. Fox’s four-hour Saturday morning kids block is not affected by Sunday’s agreement.

Also at the meeting, Carey told affiliates that Fox is ready to move forward with testing program repurposing and multiplexing on digital channels in certain markets. While affils are generally protective of their program exclusivity, fearing their ratings will be hurt if the webs quickly rerun network programming on cable or digital channels, the Fox affils are not opposing the move.

Carey also touched on the controversy in Washington surrounding the network’s desire to lift the current 35% station ownership cap.

“We really do believe broadcasters need to move forward with broad-based deregulation,” Carey said.

The ownership issue has divided members of the NAB along network and affiliate lines. While Carey said “the NAB has gotten bogged down on some of these issues,” Fox doesn’t have any plans to pull out of the group.

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