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PBS launches kids network

Web targets Nick Jr., Noggin

NEW YORK — The war for preschool viewers is on.

PBS Kids Channel, a new 24-hour network, will air kid hits such as “Barney & Friends” one day after they run in their regular PBS timeslots.

Each show will repeat several times a day on the new channel, which has initially signed up 32 PBS station affiliates. Nine of those affiliates will carry the new web when it launches Monday.

The new kids web will compete directly with Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. daily preschool program block, as well as Noggin, a new educational kids channel owned by Nickelodeon and Children’s Television Workshop.

In addition, PBS Kids Channel will try to wrestle preschool viewers away from competitors including Fox Kids Network, Fox Family Channel and the cabler’s forthcoming Boyz and Girlz digital cable webs.

“We’ve always been first in the preschool market and we’re determined to keep the franchise,” said Gwendolyn C. Wood, VP of PBS distribution services.

While the PBS programs “Arthur,” “Barney & Friends” and “Teletubbies” garner the top ratings among kids aged 2-5, Nickelodeon has made serious inroads with programs such as preschool hit “Blues Clues.”

In addition to the three top-rated PBS preschool shows, PBS Kids Channel will include “Wimzie’s House,” “Noddy,” “Zoom,” “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” “Dragon Tales” and “Reading Rainbow.”

PBS affiliates aren’t expected to carry PBS Kids Channel 24 hours a day, but Wood said she is asking them to clear at least a five-hour block.

Beyond broadcast

Most of the 32 PBS stations that have signed up for PBS Kids will not run the programming service on their core broadcast channels. Instead, they will carry it on a second cable channel they operate. Others will carry the signal on digital multicast channels, which will have very little viewership in the near term.

However, several stations, such as WXEL in West Palm Beach, and WMEC in Macomb-Springfield-Quincy, Ill., will carry PBS Kids on their primary broadcast stations.

So far, no station in New York has agreed to carry the service. The only Southern California station to sign up is KVCR in San Bernardino.

When all 32 stations begin carrying PBS Kids, the service will reach a total of 5 million homes. That will be enough to surpass Noggin.

Wood said additional affiliate agreements will follow in the coming months.

Supplier conflict

In launching PBS Kids, PBS will become a direct competitor to CTW, one of its major suppliers.

In partnering with Nickelodeon to create Noggin, CTW chose Nick and its for-profit model over the nonprofit PBS kids service.

Noggin features such CTW shows as “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Co.” PBS Kids Channel will carry no CTW product.

Nickelodeon execs were unavailable for comment.