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Mini-nets replace syndication sales

HOLLYWOOD Any TV buyers trekking to this year's NATPE confab in search of kids syndicated programming would do just as well staying at home.

Harsh words, maybe -- but many of the syndie majors (namely, Buena Vista Television, Bohbot Kids Network and Saban Entertainment) are locked up in distribution deals, freeing themselves from having to fiercely push their product.

Buena Vista has been fueling the UPN netlet since September with its "Disney One Too" block, Bohbot Kids is largely mimicking a net (with 50% of U.S. stations cleared to air its kids chunk).

No syndie situation

Since the September 1997 acquisition of the Family Channel by its banner company Fox Family Worldwide, Saban has been able to feed its programming into two distrib channels (Fox Kids Network and now renamed Fox Family Channel), and therefore be able to by-pass the syndication route. Saban officially ended its syndication arm in December of that year.

Put simply, "the traditional kids syndication business is pretty much a thing of the past," says Bohbot Kids prexy John Heft. "If you mean selling a program on a market-by-market basis, no one's doing that anymore. You must align yourself with one of the networks if you want a presence."

One holdout is Western International Syndication, which is bringing back a fifth season of the half-hour live action "Field Trip," an FCC-compliant all-barter series which airs in 74% of U.S. markets.

While it's true that Bohbot Kids is still an indie kids' content supplier (its core offerings include "Monster Rancher," "Roughnecks: Starship Troopers," "Mummies Alive" and "Extreme Ghostbusters") -- Bohbot Kids has branded itself as a net in order to effectively compete for kids' eyeballs.

Giants in the biz

Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel, (not to mention WB Kids animated phenom "Pokemon") currently rule the roost when it comes to domestic kiddie TV.

"Kids need to know of a place where they will be served all the time and not just part-time -- we need to give kids a reason to turn in 6 days a week," says Heft, explaining why he wants to crank up the visibility of Bohbot Kids' `Bulldog TV,' label "promoting a network lineup just like anyone else."

Heff's 200 Bohbot Kids affils will be served up 3 hrs. worth of programming Monday-Friday and a 4 hr. block Sundays -- "Our strategy for fall 2000 is one network, one feed, one promo, one look."

But Heft won't be a complete no-show in New Orleans. He and other Bohbot Kids staffers will be meeting with station groups, clearing its Bulldog programming in the rest of the country and "filling in the cracks at NATPE.

"Instead of a huge booth at NATPE (like in years past), we'll be spending the money on program development," says Heft. During the convention, Bohbot Kids will unveil its new slate, which will include seven returning shows and seven broadcast preems.

But Heft is still very much looking forward to New Orleans: "This is the first time I'll be attending NATPE and enjoying it for a change. I'll be out of the high-stress sales environment."

And with 75% of the U.S. cleared (meaning all existing UPN stations), Buena Vista TV will also enjoy a relatively laid-back NATPE.

Meet and greet

However, "our advertising sales division will be very busy at the convention, meeting with all our key buyers to stay ahead of the game before this year's upfront sales market," says Buena Vista TV prexy Janice Marinelli.

But there will be a little program hustle and bustle -- Disney has announced that "Pepper Ann" will fill out the Disney One Too block, premiering alongside "Doug," "Recess" and "Sabrina." The One Too block, seen on UPN and in syndication, features several brand-new episodes of most of the shows.

Also from Disney is "The Weekenders," created by Doug Langdale and Steve Lyons. Show, premiering Feb. 26 on ABC in Disney's One Saturday Morning block, follows the weekend adventures of four animated Southern California teens, and like the other Saturday shows, should migrate eventually into syndication.

Echoing Bohbot Kids' Heft, Marinelli says, "One and a half years ago, we looked at the future (of the kids business) and we felt it best to align ourselves with a network."

A smart move, according to media research analyst Marc Berman. "There's a lot more competition. Nick's name is just all over the place. It's easier (for kids content producers) to just take a show to the WB or Fox and get it into a lineup."

As an example, Berman points to Marc Anthony Entertainment's unsuccessful efforts to sell its syndie series "Filbert's Fopp Can't Stop."

"For syndicators to just come up with a kids show is an uproad battle," he says.

Still, if something comes along that smells at all like the next "Pokemon," "all kids networks are going to clamor for it," claims Stan Golden, international prexy of former syndie giant Saban Entertainment.
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Title Annotation:children's television programs in syndication
Comment:TOT BIZ EVOLVES.(children's television programs in syndication)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 17, 2000
Previous Article:NEW AT NATPE.

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