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Standing Out In the Kid Crowd

1/26/2007 7:00 PM Eastern

As the kids market grows, programmers are looking for more ways to set themselves apart. That means carving a niche within the demographic, usually based on age but also language.

Forty-three percent of kids under 2 watch TV every day, according to a May 2006 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The study also found that 19% of babies under 1 year have a TV in their bedroom, while 29% of kids 2 to 3 have one.

Such trends have not gone unnoticed by programmers, which have responded with content such as Baby Boost, an on-demand service that Comcast said is getting about 1 million views per month. Comcast also is an investor — along with HIT Entertainment, PBS and Sesame Workshop — in PBS Kids Sprout.

“We launched Sprout because there was no channel to provide high-quality programming for kids 2-5 whenever they want it,” said Sandy Wax, president of Sprout, which now is available in about 20 million homes.

Sprout also is an example of how programmers and operators are catering to another growing younger demo: Hispanic children, as well as kids from other cultures. Sprout currently offers 10 of its 60 on-demand hours in Spanish. “One-third of families with kids 2-5 in America today are of Hispanic origin,” Wax said. “We think Hispanic [viewers are] very underserved.”

Although kids networks are steadily adding Spanish-language fare, some operators want more. “In our Spanish package, we have four kids channels,” said Tricia Lynch, director of FiOS TV programming at Verizon Communications. “I’d like to see more, especially in VOD. We’d definitely look at anyone who has new Spanish-language kids programming.”

Another new network that’s aiming young is Qubo. “We felt that there was this big vacuum in terms of children ages 4-8,” said president and general manager Rick Rodriguez. “They’re past the preschool age, but not ready to tackle some of the pre-adolescent subject matter.”

Sprout sees the same opportunity. “So many of the kids channels are geared toward 9-14 that they forget about those first, second and third graders, who aren’t quite ready to deal with teen issues such as dating,” Wax said.

And some programmers say that Madison Avenue puts a premium on preteen demos.

“From an ad-sales standpoint, the kids market is still very much driven by 2-11 and 6-11, not 9-14,” Cartoon Network executive vice president and general manager Jim Samples said.

All of those demographic break-outs raise a question: Is it possible for a network to be all things to all kids?

Nickelodeon thinks that a daypart strategy is one way to strike a balance across the 2-14 kids who are its target audience.

“On Nick Jr., when big kids are in school, we have a pre-school block from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Nickelodeon Digital Television executive vice president and general manager Tom Ascheim said. “That targets kids 2-5. When their older brothers and sisters come home, we switch to a broader focus: 2-11.”

Besides catering to certain age groups, networks are using different types of programming to differentiate themselves. The Gospel Music Channel, for example, sees music fare as a way to stand out.

“In the music entertainment genre, there isn’t anything that is completely safe for families that are concerned about violent images and sexuality that are in so many music videos,” Gospel vice chairman Brad Siegel said. “Gospel Music Channel is the alternative to that.”

Another example is HBO Family, which relies on its commercial-free lineup, the HBO brand and edgier programming such as Middle School Confessions to stand out. “That kind of programming is put on later in the evening,” vice president of development, production and acquisition Dolores Morris said. “It deals with subject matter that Disney or Nick wouldn’t attempt.”

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