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Fox Takes Hit To Boost Kidvid

31 Jan, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Fox is getting Barney.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has snagged exclusive home video marketing, sales and distribution rights to HIT Entertainment's children programming in the United States and Canada.

The deal, which begins in the fall and lasts several years, includes all HIT children's properties, including “Barney,” “Bob the Builder,” “Angelina Ballerina” and “Thomas and Friends.”

Fox also will distribute all of The Jim Henson Co.'s “Henson Family Classics,” which include “Fraggle Rock” and “Animal Jam,” for which HIT serves as U.S. agent for home entertainment, licensing and merchandising.

The deal is not entirely unexpected, given that former Fox home entertainment chief Pat Wyatt became president of HIT North America last year. HIT previously had distributed its own titles; beginning in the fall, Fox will assume all of the business functions that used to be handled by HIT's U.S. home entertainment division.

Mike Dunn, worldwide president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, said the HIT portfolio “contains some of the true jewels of children's home entertainment.”

“The entire HIT catalog as well as future releases will benefit greatly from Fox's distribution acumen and clout in the market,” Wyatt said. “This will allow HIT to dramatically expand its distribution presence at retail thereby reaching even more families with young children.”

The deal will bolster Fox's kidvid presence, which in the past has been limited to “Strawberry Shortcake” and a handful of other properties. Fox used to distribute “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” and other Saban Entertainment programming, but that went to Buena Vista Home Entertainment when ABC bought the Fox Family Channel for $2.9 billion in 2001 and renamed it the ABC Family Channel.

Fox, with 4.7% of the children's nontheatrical market share in 2005, ranks well behind most studios targeting bambinos, according to Nielsen VideoScan. When combined with HIT's 6.3%, Fox more than doubles its impact in the market.

“It helps us become a much bigger player in children's entertainment,” said Steve Feldstein, SVP of marketing communications for Fox. “There's no downside to either party. It's all upside.”

Feldstein said the deal would include unspecified future direct-to-video titles and catalog.

Independent analyst Dennis McAlpine contends Fox's decision to secure HIT's business was little more than mutual opportunism with Fox generating incremental revenue and HIT securing a larger retail footprint. “There is not enough new product from HIT that is going to turn Fox into a major children's distributor,” he said.

Additional reporting by Erik Gruenwedel.

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