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Fall in the Family

Four new shows boost slates of ad-friendly fare 8/17/2003 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Five years ago, a group of advertisers sat down to discuss the lack of family shows on the broadcast networks between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. But they did more than talk. This season, those family-friendly fans boast seven such shows, including four new ones for fall.

Today, the 10 founding members have grown to 45 national advertisers representing $13 billion in TV ads, according to Dawn Jacobs, vice president of advertising for Johnson & Johnson. And it is spreading the word. The group held its first-ever Family Friendly Programming Forum Symposium in Los Angeles last week.

FFPF-backed shows that have stuck to network schedules are The WB's Gilmore Girls, ABC's 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter and NBC's American Dreams. The fund last year also backed ABC's Veritas: The Quest and The WB's Family Affair, both of which were cancelled. The four new offerings are The WB's All About the Andersons, Like Family and Steve Harvey's Big Time, and NBC's midseason The Tracy Morgan Show.

What advertisers are banking on—and particularly blue-chippers like AT&T, Ford, Coke, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's, Wal-Mart and Wendy's—is that, in a family-friendly environment, viewers will adopt their products into the family as well.

"Brand advertising, in a family television environment, has a positive impact on that brand's success," said Andy Jung, senior director of advertising and media services for Kellogg.

Out of the 45 advertisers who are part of the FFPF, about 18 or so contribute money to a script development fund. On average, a script costs a network between $50,000 and $80,000 to develop. The networks submit scripts to the fund, which picks its family-friendly favorites for financial support. The fund reimburses networks for scripts turned into pilots that don't make it on the to schedule.

While the networks appreciate the outside financial support some executives say the focus should be more on developing hits that can also make it to syndication than on getting more hours of family-friendly shows on network prime time. They would also like to see the forum kick in some down-line help.

"The next natural progression for this group's efforts is to put their promotional support behind the shows that their funds have helped create," says Jed Petrick, president and COO of The WB, which has more of the forum's show's on than any other net. "Building hits means long-term access in first-run and a syndication afterlife for the family-friendly environment they dearly want their brands to be associated with."

Syndication is a "more efficient" advertising medium anyway, Petrick says, because ads in syndication are less expensive than in prime time. It should be to an advertisers' advantage to have popular, family-oriented shows running in cheaper time periods, he says. The WB's Gilmore Girls is entering its fourth year on the air, and will be syndicated on ABC Family next fall.

Executives from syndicators and cable networks privately say they would like advertisers to help fund family-friendly shows for them as well, although that's unlikely. Syndication doesn't generally deliver the massive numbers of high-income viewers advertisers crave, and cable networks, such as Discovery, Animal Planet, TLC, Hallmark and A&E, have already made family fare part of their programming strategy and don't need advertiser incentives to develop such shows. But many advertisers are interested in sponsoring more original family-friendly fare on cable, as Johnson & Johnson did with TNT's award-winning Door to Door.

Besides being interested in running traditional ads in family-friendly shows, advertisers such as Kellogg also work to get product placement deals in shows. For example, Kellogg's has an arrangement with The WB and
The Gilmore Girls to occasionally pop a toaster pastry into the script. Both the Gilmore Girls regularly mention Pop-Tarts in their banter, and Kellogg feels this helps convince moms that Pop-Tarts are a wholesome snack for their kids.

March