NBC, FOX to sell children’s shows

LOS ANGELES – After years of losing viewers to niche cable networks like Nickelodeon and Disney, Fox and NBC are considering getting out of the children’s television market entirely.

The two broadcast networks are in negotiations to lease their Saturday morning time slots – historically their prime children’s hours – to outside programmers. Nickelodeon, Warner Bros., Discovery Communications, DIC Entertainment, Sony, Pokemon producer 4 Kids Entertainment and Canadian children’s television producer Nelvana are all involved in the talks.

None of the parties involved would comment, but sources close to the talks told the Los Angeles Times that NBC and Fox may soon announce the winning bidders, who could pay as much as $5 million to $10 million to each of the networks for their Saturday mornings beginning in the fall of 2002.

The sources said Nickelodeon and Discovery Kids are the leading contenders for NBC’s slots, with both offering about $5 million for the time period.

Many broadcast networks have had problems competing for young viewers who can find the programming they want at any hour on a dedicated cable channel. As a result, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox have only a 26 percent combined share of the market this year.

NBC and Fox have seen the biggest ratings drops, with Fox’s share of the 2- to 11-year-old audience plunging from 21 percent in 1997 to 9 percent this year and NBC dropping from 5 percent in 1997 to 2 percent this year.