By taking advantage of a little-used federal regulation, a small Burbank media company has ambitious plans to launch a uniquely structured national television network dedicated to nonviolent programming for preschool-age children.
The Children's Cable Network, as it will be known, will air award-winning children's series from the 1970s and 1980s--such as "Dusty's Treehouse" and "New Zoo Revue"--via a collection of "broadcast affiliates" that operate like franchisees.
The affiliates will be responsible for leasing air time from their local cable companies. They will select their own lineups, pay a licensing fee to the network and sell commercial advertising to cover costs and turn a profit.
"We hope we will have 100 affiliates when we kick off May 1," said Paul Cameron, who as president of Children's Cable Network has already signed up 18 affiliates. "Our (long-term) goal is to get up around 1,000."
Supporters of the network say it will be a welcome alternative to the violent fare that pervades children's shows in the era of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and military-style video games. On Monday, Children Now, a national children's advocacy group, released a nationwide poll showing that two-thirds of children between the ages of 10 and 16 said they were influenced by the sex and violence they see on television.
Traditionally, networks charge cable operators for the privilege of carrying their programs, and the operators promote their lineup of stations to attract subscribers. Cable companies also make money by selling local commercial spots during each program.
Children's Cable Network is the first network to work on the opposite principle, industry experts say. Cable companies will collect money from the network but will not be able to sell advertising during the programs. Leasing access time in many markets is easier and cheaper than launching a national network all at once and persuading cable companies to pay to carry it, Cameron said.
By law, cable operators are required to make up to 15% of their channel capacity available for lease to the public, a commercial version of the public access stations. However, only a handful of people have taken advantage of this option because the cost of leasing the time has been prohibitively expensive.
Children's Cable Network can work because the cost of acquiring programs is spread among dozens of affiliates and because they are committed to selling advertising to make the network a commercial success, not just a hobby.
Cable companies have not been promoting leased access because they prefer to exercise more control over programming on their systems, said Matt York, publisher of Leased Access Report, a Chico, Calif.-based industry newsletter.
In the Southland, the Children's Cable Network's seven-member staff has signed up affiliates in Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena and San Diego and is negotiating to bring the network to West Los Angeles and Malibu, Cameron said. It has also set up affiliates in Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Denver, Cameron said.
To set up shop, individuals pay a one-time $10,000 fee to become the sole broadcast affiliate in a particular area. For each series they plan to air, they also pay a fee--ranging from $15,000 to $30,000, depending on their cable system's subscriber base--to obtain 130 episodes, he said.
For entrepreneurs looking for any kind of business opportunity, "it's cheaper than buying a Starbuck's franchise or opening a store in a shopping center," said Michael Marcovsky, co-chairman of the network's advisory board.
"Some affiliates are looking strictly for an investment and some want to make a difference in the community in a proactive way," said Mary-Ann Bedford, who will oversee the network's affiliates. Some affiliates have a background in television broadcasting or advertising sales. Others have hired a management company to handle the logistics of bringing the television shows to the public.
In addition to "New Zoo Revue" and eight-time Emmy Award-winner "Dusty's Treehouse," the Children's Cable Network has purchased or licensed episodes of puppet show "Froozles" and a show about the metric system called "Coming to Ametrica." Ownership of the shows, which were no longer running on television, had reverted back to their creators, and the tapes were just "sitting around in vaults" when the network rediscovered them, Cameron said.
Eventually, the network plans to have all affiliates on the air from 6 a.m. to noon every day, and network executives are searching for other vintage series to acquire, he said.