Cable operators are waiting to see just how
"quirky" and "hip" Fox Family Channel's new programming is,
fearing that it will be so edgy that it will drive the network's current audience
away to new rivals, such as Pax Net and the retooled The Odyssey Channel.
Last week, roughly a half-dozen MSO programming officials
said they hadn't seen any detailed presentations yet from Fox Family on the
network's new primetime lineup, which debuts when the service relaunches Aug. 15.
Much of what they know about that lineup is based on press accounts about Fox
Family's recent presentation at the Television Critics Association summer tour, where
officials were grilled about the network's new primetime shows.
Fox Family officials have assured some cable operators that
the critics' complaints about the new schedule -- which is heavy on reality-based
video-clip series and movies -- were unfounded and overblown, according to some MSO
Few MSO officials were willing to speak on the record about
Also last week, Fox Family president Rich Cronin said,
"Fox Family Channel will be more family-oriented than the old [The] Family Channel
... Once people see the network on-air, I think that they'll understand."
Nonetheless, a number of operators said they have qualms
about where Fox Family is going and how extreme its programming changes -- at the cost of
$500 million -- will be. Fox Family is scrapping all of The Family Channel's shows
except The 700 Club, which it agreed to keep on when it bought the network from Pat
Robertson and his company for $1.9 billion last year.
In particular, three MSO officials expressed surprise at
recent remarks by Cronin, a popular and respected cable-industry veteran, who joined Fox
Family as president July 1. Cronin has said that he sees Fox Network hit The Simpsons
as a model for Fox Family programming, having "the appropriate amount of
But all three operators said The Simpsons is too
edgy to use as a standard for a family-oriented network.
"[The Simpsons] is way too radical," one
MSO official said. "It's a stretch for the American family. [Fox Family
officials] are totally ignoring the fact that [the new lineup] is a radical departure from
what The Family Channel has been doing."
A second MSO official said, "I wasn't expecting a
major overhaul [in Family Channel's schedule]. But there is certainly room for
improvement at The Family Channel, if they can do it without losing that audience."
Fox Family announced its daytime schedule, aimed at kids,
in the spring. And although it includes classic shows such as The All New Captain
Kangaroo and Shining Time Station, the rest of the schedule has inspired the
same kind of criticism as the primetime lineup has: that it's too much like Fox
broadcast network programming.
"I'm disappointed [at Fox Family's
kids' schedule], and I think that they have a challenge ahead of them," said Pam
Burton, Prime Cable's director of marketing. "It just too much resembles Fox
broadcast's Saturday-morning lineup. The old Family Channel was something that you
were proud to promote."
Toon Disney, Disney Channel's 24-hour animation
spinoff, and Noggin, the educational kids' network that Nickelodeon and
Children's Television Workshop are creating, offer "a much better proposition
for adding value" to cable than Fox Family does, Burton said.
Another operator predicted that Odyssey -- which just
gained Hallmark Entertainment and Jim Henson Co. as partners to invest $100 million in
cash and quality programming -- will take over Family's old niche. And Pax Net
launches Aug. 31 with family-values-oriented shows such as Touched by an Angel and Dr.
Quinn, Medicine Woman.
"The Family Channel had that market," the
operator said. "They'll be driving that viewership to Odyssey."
Cronin said he's been "swamped" since
joining Fox Family, but he added that he has set up a series of meetings with cable
operators in New York, as well as with officials such as James Robbins, CEO of Cox
Communications Inc., and Jedd Palmer, MediaOne's senior vice president of
Cronin said his first priority is to make sure that the
network looks good when it goes on-air. Fox Family is spending $100 million to promote the
relaunch, with sweepstakes and a major ad campaign that breaks on radio, TV and print the
first week of August.
According to Cronin, Haim Saban, chairman of Fox Kids
Worldwide Inc., met with MSO officials at the Western Show in December and at the National
Show in May, and those officials were "very receptive" to Fox Family's
plans and "really happy" about the investment being made in the network. Cable
operators, however, said those meetings focused heavily on promotional plans for the
relaunch, with few details on the programming.
Only one operator raised the issue of whether the new
programming conformed to Family Channel's affiliation agreements, which are usually
Fox Family is aiming to not only hold onto Family
Channel's current viewers, but to attract younger, contemporary urban and suburban
families to primetime with shows that the whole family can watch together, Cronin said.
TCA critics lambasted Fox Family for saying that the
relaunched network would have "attitude," and Cronin is now substituting the
"Successful networks and successful radio stations
have a personality and attitude," he said.
Some cable operators are taking a wait-and-see attitude
about the new Fox Family lineup, while others welcomed the change.
"We're comfortable with [Fox Family's new
program lineup]," said Michael Luftman, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable.
As for the program changes, Cable One vice president of
strategic marketing Jerry McKenna said, "The jury's out. The viewership may drop
off initially, but hopefully, it will build back up."
McKenna said he is concerned that Fox Family will try to
pass on its programming costs to operators. The network's national advertisers ought
to foot that bill, McKenna added.
At Harron Communications Corp., vice president of
programming Linda Stuchell said that keeping The 700 Club on the air "eases
into the switch."
She added, "Fox has a track record of investing in
programming that it promotes, and some is edgy and gets a following. We like the