It's been less than a decade since the Fox network owned Saturday morning thanks to the Power Rangers. Back in the glory days of the 90s Fox Kids ruled on Saturdays and expanded its reach into weekday programming as moguls Rupert Murdoch and Ronald Perelman danced around each other waving visions of a combined youth entertainment empire. But thanks to competition from the Kids WB, the Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon, Fox has seen its Saturday morning ratings decline. Now that Murdoch has sold the Fox Family network to Disney and retired the weekday Fox Kids block (see 'Fox Axes Daily Toons'), all that remained was to sublet Saturday morning to one of the several interested kids programming companies. 4Kids Entertainment, the company that packages Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Cubix, outbid both DIC Entertainment (Sailor Moon) and Nickelodeon for the four-hour Saturday morning block. According to Variety, 4Kids will pay Fox some $25.3 million per year to gain control of the time period.
What 4Kids will do with the four-hour Saturday morning block is anybody's guess. Right now 4Kids' most popular shows, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh are the mainstays of the competing Kids WB Saturday morning lineup. 4Kids has excellent connections in Japan and is currently developing several anime titles including Kinnikuman, and Tama and Friends as well as Ultraman Tiga, but will the company risk its $25 million investment on unproven programs? Since according to FCC regulations one hour of the four-hour block must be dedicated to 'educational' programming, it is possible that 4Kids will sublet one hour of their time, but the company certainly didn't pay $25 million to air other companies' series, so the fate of Medabots, Mon Colle Knights, and Digimon, the three anime series currently running on Fox's Saturday morning block, is very much up in the air.
Clearly there will be a major change in Saturday morning network programming over the next six months. Series may well disappear from one network and then suddenly appear on another like some anime version of 'musical chairs.' Since many of the affected series have merchandise tie-ins (see 'Viz Launches Medabot Manga'), what happens to these shows is of concern to pop culture retailers. Stay tuned to ICv2 to keep on top of the increasingly turbulent world of anime programming.