The kids playground has lost another broadcast player.

Up against a tough marketplace, NBC confirmed Thursday it would lease its Saturday morning kids block to Discovery Networks for three years, beginning in fall 2002 (Daily Variety, Dec. 5).

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but sources familiar with the deal said Discovery will pony up about $6 million per season.

“This is a strategic move to keep NBC competitive in the kids arena,” said NBC West Coast prexy Scott Sassa, who said that without a weekday platform, it was difficult to promote the Saturday morning block.

The block consists of 2½ hours of programming, but if the Peacock doesn’t renew its current contract with the National Basketball Assn., that number could expand to three, since the half-hour NBA-produced “Inside Stuff” would disappear.

Discovery will sell all commercial time for the ayem block, which will be jointly branded by Discovery and NBC. The cabler also will keep 100% of the revenue from the block, which it plans to sell as a package with its Discovery Kids digital net and kid-geared programs on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.

The Peacock has partnered with Discovery before on programming, and the companies held conversations about a possible merger last summer. But Discovery Networks senior VP/general manager Johnathan Rodgers said discussions “are no longer ongoing” and that the Discovery Kids deal is “not a precursor to a big deal.”

NBC said the kids block will continue to meet FCC guidelines for educational and informational children’s programming. If the FCC didn’t mandate that stations air three hours a week for educational programming for kids, Sassa said the Peacock likely would have skedded something else in the daypart.

Tweens targeted

Discovery didn’t reveal details of the new sked, but said it will cross genres. “We’re looking at the inventory we have, as well as a strong development slate, which includes documentaries for kids, real world fiction, even animation,” said Discovery Kids senior VP/general manager Marjorie Kaplan. The programming likely will target 9- to 14-year-olds, known as the “tween” demo.

Discovery Kids programming currently airs as a programming block on Discovery, as well as on the Discovery Kids digital cable net, which is distributed in only 15 million homes.

Rodgers said he hopes the Discovery Kids block on NBC will help drive distribution of the Discovery Kids digital channel.

Since 1993, NBC has been using the block for its teen-oriented “TNBC” lineup. In the past it has had success with shows such as “Saved by the Bell,” but the current lineup, which includes “City Guys,” “All About Us” and “Just Deal,” hasn’t had much luck attracting auds.

Daypart desertion

NBC isn’t the first broadcast net to abandon the kid biz by leasing out space to a cable net. Two years ago, CBS, which failed to compete aggressively on Saturday mornings, turned over the daypart to corporate sibling Nickelodeon to program. By partnering with Nick, CBS was able to turn a profit on its previously money-losing Saturday morning sked.

Fox also has been meeting with kids producers about leasing its Fox Kids’ four-hour Saturday morning lineup. “We’re looking at all the bids and we’re hoping to make a decision soon,” said Fox Kids VP Patrick Connolly.