Making an estimated $18 million commitment, Home Box Office
is expanding the original programming on its multiplex service, HBO Family, effective in
February, adding six new original series for kids, officials said last week.
HBO Family debuted in December 1996. While it had a handful
of shows, a large part of the network's programming has been PG-rated Hollywood
theatricals, an HBO spokesman said.
But next spring, HBO will ramp up the amount of original
fare on the multiplex, producing three new series for HBO Family itself and adding another
three new acquired series to its schedule.
Sheila Nevins, HBO's senior vice president of original
programming, said she is positioning the changes at HBO Family as "a launch" --
which will be backed by a big marketing push from HBO -- even though the channel has been
up and running for nearly two years.
HBO Family had a soft launch in 1996 -- almost unnoticed,
with little fanfare -- according to Nevins.
"We gave a party, and nobody knew that it was
happening," Nevins said. "We're really defining [HBO Family] differently
now, dressing it differently ... It will have more proprietary programming and more
HBO's touting of HBO Family comes as a variety of
players are entering the family and kids' market. Pax TV launched last month, as did
Fox Family Channel, a reincarnation of The Family Channel. The Odyssey Channel is being
reworked as a family oriented channel, and Nickelodeon and Children's Television
Workshop are set to debut educational kids' channel Noggin next year.
The $18 million worth of programming, along with additional
marketing support this year and early next year, will also coincide with HBO Family's
increase in distribution now that digital set-tops are becoming more widely deployed,
HBO Family is part of the multiplex package called
"HBO The Works," which HBO subscribers can get at no extra cost if a cable
system has the capacity to carry it.
At midyear this year, about 30 percent of HBO's
subscribers were getting HBO Family, or some 7 million homes.
For the most part, HBO Family's six new shows will be
part of the premium multiplex's morning program block for preschoolers, as well as
its after-school block for older kids.
HBO will develop three original weekday series for HBO
Family: A Little Curious, an animated show for preschoolers; Crashbox, an
interactive game show for grade-school kids; and 30x30: Kid Flicks, featuring
documentaries and short films done by filmmakers eight to 18 years old.
HBO has also acquired three new weekday series for HBO
Family that will be part of a morning preschool block: George and Martha, an
animated show based on James Marshall's books on the adventures of two
hippopotamuses, from Nelvana; The Adventures of Paddington Bear, based on the
famous books by Michael Bond, from Cinar; and Anthony Ant, an animated series from
Family oriented movies will continue to make up 90 percent
of HBO Family's schedule, Nevins said, adding that the new shows will offer a
"safe haven" for whole families to watch.
As part of the programming retooling, HBO plans to
sneak-preview family specials on HBO Family before they premiere on HBO itself.