The Washington Post

The Kelly household in Rockville, Md., has four kids and three TVs. Typically, there”s a children”s show on at least one of the sets. While Sue Ellen Kelly fixes dinner, the kids are likely watching one of Disney”s many cable channels. Later that night or on Saturday afternoons, it”s probably Nickelodeon, another cable channel.

On Saturday mornings, everyone”s out the door.

“It”s the swim meet or the basketball game or the hockey game or the baseball game or whatever,” Sue Ellen said. “I don”t even think the kids turn on the TV on Saturday morning.”

The television battle for kids is over. Cable has won. The major networks dogged by a decade of rising production costs, low ratings and declining advertising revenue have thrown in the towel, as a recent spate of deals illustrates.

Further, a common kids culture the Saturday-morning cartoon ritual, when millions of children watched the same shows at the same time is becoming a collateral victim of the changes.

This week, Fox sold its Saturday-morning block of programming to 4Kids Entertainment Inc. This follows NBC”s move in December to lease three hours of its Saturday-morning programming to Discovery Channel. Over the past two years, CBS and ABC have farmed out their Saturday-morning programming to corporate cousins, Nickelodeon and Disney respectively.

For the first time, none of the four major networks will produce its own kids shows, which is significant: Network-made children”s programming was once a building block of programming, a way to hook the next generation of viewers. But even the WB, which caters to young audiences, recently stopped providing kids shows to affiliates. The WB has partnered with the Cartoon Network to show that channel”s cartoons on WB stations.

In television”s early days, when there were only three channels, networks discovered a captive advertising target in kids.

Shows such as “Howdy Doody” were wrapped around commercials for such products as Ovaltine, in which kids were instructed to tell Mom “more Ovaltine, please.” If advertisers wanted to reach children, and their parents, they had to go through ABC, CBS and NBC.

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