At a time when only a handful of independent syndicators remain, DIC Entertainment has shown that there's room for small players with innovative ideas.
The company provides three-hour blocks of kids programming packaged to make it easy for stations to address the FCC's core requirement of providing at least three hours a week of educational programming.
Broadcasters can choose from a variety of shows in the DIC library as part of the block. That means multiple stations in a particular market can run separate shows, even though the commercials are all the same.
Known as DIC Kid's Network, the niche product is cleared on more than 450 WB, Fox and UPN stations—including at least one in every U.S. market and two or three in some areas.
“Your commercial could run in Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Liberty's Kids on two different stations in the same market,” explains DIC Chairman/CEO Andy Heyward.
In Los Angeles, for example, a single commercial purchase gets Banzai, Hasbro, Mattel and other advertisers time on KTLA (a WB affiliate) along with KTTV (Fox) and KCOP (UPN).
Those multiple runs are also a ratings booster. During the first full week of March, the DIC Kid's Network block pulled an average 1.6 household rating. That's higher than the average household rating of regular kids programming from ABC (1.3 rating), CBS (1.1), Fox (0.9), NBC (1.4) and The WB (1.3), according to data provided by DIC.
Stations like it because DIC takes on the work of complying with FCC rules to carry out the Children's Television Act core-programming requirements. Those rules are somewhat vague, putting the onus on stations to determine whether the programming is in the spirit of the law.
The block debuted in September 2003, drawing on programming from DIC's library of more than 1,600 hours of animated and live-action shows. It comprises Strawberry Shortcake, Inspector Gadget, Madeline, Liberty's Kids, Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? and The Smurfs.
Not every episode of each series passes educational muster, says Heyward.
One example is The Smurfs. DIC and its educational consultants vetted dozens of episodes and are offering 26 episodes of the 1980s animated Hanna-Barbera classic purchased from Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution and put into the DIC Kid's Network rotation in January.
“There are lot of programs we look at,” says Heyward. They're sent to the consultants that DIC employs to see if they'll get an educational thumbs-up. “If we're told they won't work,” he says, “they don't get on the air.”