Less than one week before the scheduled Halloween launch of
Fox Family Worldwide Inc.'s boyzChannel and girlzChannel, the digi-nets apparently have no
carriage deals with top MSOs or satellite providers.
Fox Family had hoped to distribute the kids' networks on
digital tiers, but AT&T Broadband & Internet Services' Headend in the Sky and Time
Warner Cable's AthenaTV -- the two largest digital-cable platforms -- haven't agreed to
launch the channels, spokesmen said.
AT&T Broadband and Time Warner officials said
negotiations with Fox are ongoing.
Cox Communications Inc. -- which had about 100,000
digital-cable customers as of March 31 -- also said it hasn't reached a deal for
boyzChannel and girlzChannel.
DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp., the leading
direct-broadcast satellite operators, said they haven't agreed to carry the two networks.
Neither DBS firm ruled out picking up the channels later.
Network brass remained optimistic last week. Fox Family
Channels CEO Rich Cronin said the company is in the final stages of negotiations with
cable and satellite players, and it expects to announce carriage this week.
"We expect to beat our business plan in terms of
distribution," Cronin said, predicting that the channels would pass the 1
million-subscriber mark by the first quarter.
To do so, boyzChannel and girlzChannel will have to make
their mark amid an already crowded kids' market that includes more established newcomers
such as The Walt Disney Co.'s Toon Disney and Noggin, an educational network owned by
Viacom Inc. and Children's Television Workshop.
Toon Disney launched last year with 5 million subscribers,
and it has grown to 15 million. Noggin launched last year with 1.2 million subscribers
(most through an EchoStar carriage deal), and it now counts 4.2 million.
"A good idea still somehow rises to the top,"
Noggin general manager Tom Ascheim said, discussing how Noggin was able to gain carriage
at a time when all new networks are vying for few open spots on cable systems.
Noggin still hasn't reached a carriage deal with DirecTV,
but the channel is set to launch on HITS' " Three-Pack" next month. Ascheim
predicted that the channel will count 15 million to 20 million subscribers by the end of
The key launch strategy for Toon Disney and other new
networks is to first shop the channels to the top eight cable and satellite providers,
Disney Channel senior vice president of sales and marketing Charlie Nooney said.
"Consolidation has made it where you really go to
seven or eight places to get the majority of your subscriber base," Nooney added,
recalling, "It used to be 20 to 30 places" that he would target only a few years
The days leading up to a channel launch, when negotiations
often go down to the wire, are the toughest, Nooney said. "The weeks before launch
are hectic and nerve-racking, and you find more hair on your pillow every morning when you
get up. It's a very stressful time," he added.
Daytime programming for boyzChannel and girlzChannel
includes original programming from the Fox Family Worldwide library, targeting kids aged
two through 14 on each respective channel. Evening programming will target parents, with
shows like Parentz101 and Bringing Up Boys.
The Web sites haven't generated enough traffic to be
measured by Media Metrix Inc., the top Internet-ratings service, a company spokesman said