Cartoon Network's late-night programming block Adult Swim will get primetime exposure, beginning its schedule an hour earlier at 10 p.m. starting in January.
To fill the additional hour, the network has acquired the Fox network animated series King Of The Hill from Twentieth Television. “Since we've established our late-night beachhead, we're now going earlier,” said Adult Swim senior vice president of programming and production Mike Lazzo. “Let's bring not only our current audience to primetime, but let's attract a new a broader audience that we can make new and original programming for in that time period.”
Cartoon would not reveal terms of the deal, which runs through 2013, but said the agreement covers all 13 of the animated series' seasons.
Fox recently announced it was cancelling the series. The show's final original installments are expected to run during the 2009-10 TV season.
Nevertheless, Lazzo said the Mike Judge-produced series is a major coup for the network.
“It's rare to find an animated series that has a large number of episodes and we've always wanted King of the Hill,” he said. “When we acquired Futurama and Family Guy back in 2003, we knew that King of the Hill was a natural if we were to be successful with Adult Swim.”
The young-adult male targeted Adult Swim — which currently runs from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Sundays — will air King of the Hill daily at 10 p.m., allowing the network's programming hours to fall into the audience- and advertiser-rich 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. primetime period.
“Getting King of the Hill enables us to move into primetime and I think makes us that much more legitimate,” he said, adding the primetime move will hopefully draw more advertisers to the network.
Lazzo said he expects the network's core 18-to-34-year-old male viewer accustomed to Adult Swim's late-night schedule will tune into the channel an hour earlier. Adult Swim has ranked first in total-day delivery of adults 18 to 24 and men 18 to 24 for 14 consecutive quarters, and with men 18 to 34 for 12 of the last 14 quarters.
Overall, the network posted a 0.9 household rating for the quarter, down 10% from the 1.0 rating during the same period last year.
“What's fascinating about this is Adult Swim has been instrumental in pointing out to other programmers how valuable late night is and they're beginning to put dollars against that [time block],” he said. “As we have been very successful in late night, we've moved south and moved into primetime to take advantage of that time period as well and using late night to springboard into that.”
Lazzo didn't rule out the possibility of beginning Adult Swim even earlier in the near future. “As soon as we can ramp up on the original programming area, we will look to move earlier and earlier,” he said, although he would not reveal a specific timeline.
The move will cut back by an hour the on-air time for kids-targeted Cartoon Network, which posted a flat 1.1 household rating during third quarter 2008. But Lazzo said the network, which performs well among young male demos, won't be adversely affected by the change.
“Just as you would see in a normal programming day, a younger demo performs better in a certain daypart that an older demo, I think you'll see that with these two networks,” he said. “At midnight or two in the morning you're not going to have a young audience, so it doesn't make sense to produce for that audience. But at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. you need to cater to a broader audience and shows like a King of the Hill broaden the audience and attract from all demos.”