Crazy Like a Fox?

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Last year News Corp., owner of the Fox Network, and Saban joined to pay $1.9 billion to buy the Family Channel cable station from Pat Robertson’s International Family Entertainment. On Aug. 15, 72 million households can begin to determine whether the purchase was a smart move.

The name change will be minimal, from the Family Channel to the Fox Family Channel, but the attitude adjustment is likely to leave some senior citizens scrambling for their remote controls. Later this month, in a move that may never be repeated on this scale, Fox and Saban will change every program on the channel. They will recast the network away from the viewers who felt that Murder, She Wrote was a little too hip, to aim squarely at families and their kids. The good news is that the cable station is in almost 100 percent of the homes that have cable, more than both Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. The bad news is that Fox Family has to compete for kids against those two successful cable channels.

“Never in the history of cable has a network ripped up the whole programming,” says John Zamoiski, president of Promotion Development Group, New York. Zamoiski developed the program to involve local cable operators in the launch in exchange for spot ads on other cable networks.

The new channel will be “first and foremost, a family channel with Fox attitude,” says Tom Lucas, senior vp marketing, Fox Family Channel.

Launch details Besides the trade promo, Fox will spend $100 million during the new channel’s first year for promos and advertising designed to get people to watch. The bigge st blitz will be in the first month when partners Wendy’s, Busch theme parks, and PolyGram Home video join for a watch-and-win contest.

The skill contest requires people, most likely adults, to send in an entry form stating what channel Fox Family occupies on their cable system, and for them to identify the character shown in the channel’s corner.

Wendy’s expects to give away 100 million entry forms in its 5,000 restaurants. PolyGram will give Fox Family shared signage in 20,000 retail outlets and mention on rental videos. In return Fox Family will give away 250 copies of PolyGram’s The Borrowers to second prize winners in the contest. First prize will be a family trip to a Busch theme park, either Busch Gardens or Sea World. Busch Gardens is the home for the new Captain Kangaroo show. While that show airs on Fox’s network, the Captain will also be present on Fox Family when he hosts the daytime preschool block of programming.

The contest’s grand prize, in keeping with the channel’s family theme, is $100,000 toward a family’s dream house.

Fox will support the campaign with ads on its network, print ads in Women’s Day and Family Life, an FSI from sister company News America, as well as transit ads, painted buses, and even aerial stunts.

Lucas says Fox plans to hit 90 percent of its 18-year-old to 49-year-old target audience three times or more. The channel hopes to attract kids aged two to 17 during the day, and the 12 to 54 market during prime time.

Because family means everyone, Fox is even reaching out to the Family Channel’s former viewers. Fox has set up an 800 viewer hotline for people who want to know if the former Family shows have landed on any other stations.

With all that promotional activity, Fox hasn’t forgotten programming. To kick off the first weekend, the station plans an hour-long documentary of Leonardo DiCaprio, Leo Mania, and the first live Spice Girls concert. Also, $125 million will be spent to produce 26 original movies, including the life story of Michael Jordan. Other programs will include National Lampoon’s Men in White.

The idea is to run the big movies during the channel’s 8 p.m. time slot to create destination viewing. Fox is going right into the teeth of the ABC/Disney Wonderful World of Disney program that starts Sundays at 7.

Daytime will consist of four blocks of programming aimed at different demos during the day. The first block is Morning Scramble from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. This will range from original shows such as Wowser, an animated tale about a shaggy, lovable dog who belongs to a mad inventor, to old favorites like Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

The Captain’s Treasure house follows from 9 a.m. to noon. The block is hosted by members of the All New Captain Kangaroo show and it includes pre-school fare such as Shining Time Station with Thomas the Tank Engine. Tic Tac Toons rules from noon to 3 p.m., hitting kids with cartoons, such as the Howie Mandel-created Bobby’s World and The Real Ghostbusters. The Basement is the cornerstone of kids programming on the channel. This 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. block combines original shows such as Bad Dog, the screen saver come to animated life, and Walter Melon, an overweight, clumsy hero-for-hire, with music videos, VJ-type hosts, and interstitial comedy bits.

Holidays pay off But Elie Dekel, executive vp, Fox Family Channel, knows the fight for viewers is a long-term battle. In this hyper-competitive environment, we need to clearly differentiate what we have to offer. … Watch-and-win promos are effective, but it can’t be the sole driver. It has to be an ingredient in the key message.

Besides keeping part of the name, Fox is keeping just one other aspect from the Family Channel – its promotions. After Fox’s month-long program to help introduce the new channel, its only promos will be variations of the old Family’s 25 Days of Christmas. For the past two years, Family has put on as much Christmas programming it could, while finding partners to extend the message into retail outlets. Last year, Wal-Mart and Campbell’s soups joined in, with Wal-Mart bringing TV monitors into its stores while Campbell offered recipe books through women-targeted publications.

This year, Fox will start with a 13 Days of Halloween promotion. Although execs wouldn’t confirm any partners, expect Discovery Zone to use its long-term deal with Fox to help promote the themed promo.

“The branded holidays are a proven formula (Family) had established,” Dekel says. The concept works.”

OThe branded holidays are going to be a major cornerstone to brand and differentiate the channel,’ says Lucas. The former Family never did anything on the scale we will.

Besides Halloween and Christmas, Fox looks to run week-long promos for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other holidays.

If Fox and Saban find the kind of audience they expect, about a million homes in the first year, the channel’s purchase will be well worth the money.

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