May 10, 2006

A Smarter Network?

On Monday, a group of individuals announced plans to change the face of television. Okay, it's kind of hyperbole, but it's true. Two network groups (ION Media Networks [formerly Paxson Communications, owners of i, the network formerly known as PAX TV] and NBC Universal [owners of Telemundo and some broadcast network who name escapes me]) and three media companies (book publisher Scholastic, Corus Entertainment [owners of YTV and Nelvana Animation], and Classic Media/Big Idea [the former owns properties ranging from Rocky and Bullwinkle and Underdog to Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing to the Little Golden Books characters while the latter, a unit of Classic Media, created religious-based and secular value-based programming, most notably VeggieTales) are joining together to launch a trio of children's entertainment outlets under the "Smart Place for Kids" banner:

- Three national broadcast blocks on NBC (Saturday mornings beginning in September), Telemundo (Saturday mornings beginning in October and Sunday mornings in Spanish beginning in January 2007), and i (weekdays beginning in September)

-- A new 24-hour digital kids channel (majority owned by ION, which will bring it to their national feed and concurrently on digital cable outlets) with library properties from the partners (which will range from classic theatrical and television animation, popular kid-friendly titles, familiar series and franchises, and kid-friendly live-action series) launching on September 2, 2006.

- Video on-demand services on Digital Cable and official branded website.

Their mission: bringing literacy and values to children's television to all families (well, if you speak English and Spanish) by providing kid-empowering and parent-approved programming.

In short, E/I, E/I, oh.

You probably won't see something like, say, Exo-Squad or WildC.A.T.S. on the new block (what a pity), but it wouldn't be farfetched to see Pandalain or the new Mr. Magoo or Gerald McBoing Boing. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if they'll somehow sneak in reruns of Goosebumps or Clifford The Big Red Dog on the network equivalent considering the fact that a number of shows commonly seen on PBS Kids are missing on PBS Sprout, who at first glance is one competitor on the cable front, and may not air on their relaunch digital television feed PBS Kids Go.

This announcement leads me to believe that this fall is going to be the most intriguing fall season in a long, long time. CBS abandoned Nick Jr. programming in favor of a DiC-programmed block. The CW's Kids' WB block will drop all anime in favor of a more comedic lineup harkening back to what the block looked like in 1995, and ABC Family has given up the good ship Jetix, giving that block exclusively to Jetix, I mean Toon Disney. Cartoon Network's airing original programming on Saturdays (though benching the more interesting Dragon Hunters for reasons yet to be revealed) while Nickelodeon still airs reruns and dominates, a trend that has had some success on ABC Kids.

I mean, back when NBC and Discovery Kids ended their partnership, nobody knew what NBC would program their Saturday morning block with. Now, NBC has, in a way that might have surprised even them, found friends in high places, renewed a strained partnership with ION, and found a way to unify programming on both NBC and Telemundo, NBC's Spanish-language network.

To say we're in interesting times would be a mild understatement.

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