Fox Kids Details FamilyAttitude


New York -- Fox Kids Worldwide Inc. plans to bring'attitude' to the kids programming it will debut this summer on the Fox FamilyChannel, but the shows will be 'safe' enough for parents to approve, in keepingwith the cable network's wholesome image.

That's the message that Fox Kids and the top echelonof News Corp., including chairman Rupert Murdoch, brought to Madison Avenue here last weekat the Fox Kids upfront presentation, which played to a standing-room-only crowd.

Murdoch also emphatically stressed that News Corp.doesn't plan to abandon its Fox Kids broadcast network in favor of its newly acquired$1.9 billion cable outlet, Fox Family, which will reach 74 million homes at its relaunch.

The motto for the Fox Family kids slate, which will airseven days a week from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting Aug. 15, is 'safe, but with anattitude,' said Maureen Smith, Fox Kids senior vice president of planning, schedulingand affiliate marketing.

Fox Kids Worldwide and its chairman Haim Saban presentednew schedules for both the Fox Kids broadcast network, whose ratings have dropped, and FoxFamily. While the broadcast schedule includes Saban Entertainment fare such as PowerRangers in Space, Fox Family's lineup has no 'fantasy violence' and isgrounded in offerings like The All New Captain Kangaroo, Shining Time Station, TheMagic Adventures of Mumfie, Pee Wee's Playhouse and Little Mouse on thePrairie.

'They're still trying to maintain their heritageas the Family Channel,' said Audrey Steele, vice president of strategic mediaresources at Zenith Media Services. 'They want to build on that clean-cutimage.'

Cable operators were taking a wait-and-see attitude untilthey see the execution of the new Fox Family kids schedule.

'It sounds like Rugrats versus Promised Land,'said Pam Burton, Prime Cable's director of marketing. 'There's a case foranother kids network, and I'm looking forward to their [Fox Family] presentation now.I'll have to look at the programming model.'

Added Lynne Buening, vice president of programming atFalcon Cable TV, 'I look forward to seeing them make the transition to makingfamily-oriented television contemporary, but still a safe haven for parents.'

The Fox Family kids daytime schedule will include nearly 50percent first-run programming, with four branded blocks each day. It starts with apreschool block, Morning Scramble, and ends at 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. with TheBasement, aimed at ''tweens' and teens. The Basement willinclude VJ hosts, comedy bits and portions of music videos -- more like MTV: MusicTelevision than Nickelodeon, the dominant player in the kids market.

'It's probably a good approach,' said SteveSternberg, a senior partner at BJK&E Media Group. 'They don't want to beanother Nickelodeon, not exaclty like Nickelodoen. They obviously want to go after thoseviewers, but they found in the past you get new viewers by being a little different. AndFox has always been successful doing that.'

Fox Family will announce its new primetime programming,aimed at young adults, in mid-April.

Fox Kids contends that during the 77 hours a week that FoxFamily will air kids shows, only 69 percent of viewers ages 2 to 11 are watchingNickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel.

'In our time period, 69 percent of kids are notwatching dedicated kids channels,' Saban said at a press conference after theupfront. 'I think these are ripe for the taking.'

That's one reason why Fox doesn't expect FoxFamily to cannibalize its Fox Kids broadcast viewership. And Smith, who is programmingboth Fox Kids broadcast and Fox Family, also noted that the cable shows will often beairing when the Fox Kids broadcast network isn't on.

The kids TV market is keenly competitive, and the Fox Kidsbroadcast network has seen a ratings decline. Nonetheless, Murdoch said News Corp. wantsto be home to a global kids network, through the United States and its international kidsnetworks.

'Kids are a key component in News Corp.'splans,' Murdoch said. 'Fox Kids Network is being invigorated as a complementaryservice to our Fox Family Channel.'

Fox Kids, a partnership of News Corp. and SabanEntertainment, bought Family Channel last year for $1.9 billion.

Rick Sirvaitis, president of ad sales for Fox Family, saidhe expects the cable network to achieve an average 1.0 national rating among kids 2 to 11for its children's programming during 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Several MSO and ad agencyofficials, however, thought that was overly optimistic.

Veteran children's television activist Peggy Charrenwas happy to see some ex-Public Broadcasting Service shows, such as Shining TimeStation, on Fox Family's kids schedule. But otherwise, she said the lineup'doesn't sound terribly exciting.'

According to Charren, 'It sounds to me like thisdoesn't have anything special to recommend it. And what's usually so excitingabout cable is that much more often than broadcasting, cable channels provide realalternatives to the kind of stuff that commercial broadcasting has had for kids.'

Some of Fox Family's rivals in the kids field saidthat the network will have a hard time making itself a destination for children, since ithasn't been doing kids programming.

But Fox officials claim their combination of a kidsbroadcast network and a kids cable channel gives them a strong platform to cross-promoteboth outlets, and to get kids to sample Fox Family.

'Fox has a tremendous promotional arm to createawareness with kids,' Steele said.

Bill Carroll, director of programming for the KatzTelevision Group, agreed that Fox Kids has a unique dual platform.

'There's obviously potential there, given theproduct and success they've had as a broadcast network,' he said. 'Butthey're coming into it at a time that's very competitive. What they will be ableto achieve, time will tell.'

Fox plans to package Fox Family and Fox Kids for ad saleswhen possible, officials said.