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Forum Wants Its Influence Known

Sep 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The term “family-friendly programming” is familiar to most TV programming and advertising executives, but it has little meaning for actual families.

The Family Friendly Programming Forum, a 6-year-old group of some 40 major TV advertisers, wants to change that. In the next couple of months it will launch a marketing campaign to tell consumers and business executives which programs have Family Friendly approval.

Marketing efforts will include advertising on Family Friendly forum members’ Web sites and other Internet locations, and consumer and trade publicity, an executive from the group said. In the future, the forum may ask networks to help market shows by branding them as Family Friendly.

The campaign also will include a special Family Friendly symposium in November during which network executives, TV producers and advertisers will convene in Los Angeles. In December, The WB will air the “Sixth Annual Family Television Awards” show.

Since it started, Family Friendly has given its blessing to shows such as The WB’s “Gilmore Girls,” NBC’s “American Dreams,” ABC’s “8 Simple Rules” and The WB’s “Steve Harvey’s Big Time.” Overall, the group has approved 13 shows, six of which are still on the air.

Earlier this year, it gave approval to “Father of the Pride,” the animated show from DreamWorks about the backstage lives of lions in the Siegfried & Roy Las Vegas show. But when DreamWorks shifted the show’s emphasis to more adult-themed comedy, Family Friendly pulled its endorsement.

It didn’t matter. NBC was going to produce and air the show anyway, executives said. And it seemingly didn’t matter to some Family Forum members. According to reported comments by Kaki Hinton, VP of advertising services for Pfizer Consumer Healthcare and co-chair of the group, some Family Forum members are going to advertise in the show anyway. NBC executives declined to comment on the removal of “Father of the Pride” from Family Friendly’s list of approved shows.

In January and February of each year, the group gives networks $75,000 in basic funding for each script it selects as an incentive to develop family-friendly shows. If the network goes into production with the show, the network reimburses the group. NBC reimbursed the group for “Father of the Pride” in the spring.

NBC pulled in some $500,000 to $600,000 overall for this season in script development money from the group to develop seven scripts executives said. Of the seven, only one-“Father of the Pride”-went to series.

Other networks grabbed similar script development money. However, while network executives appreciate the financial help, it’s merely a drop in the bucket. Typically, networks spend tens of millions of dollars each on development per season.

“If it makes our advertisers happy, we are willing to support it,” said Marc Graboff, executive VP of NBC Universal Television Group. “We spent millions on research and development. Every little bit helps. We welcome it.”

This season the group also gave the Family Friendly nod to ABC’s “Complete Savages,” The WB’s “Jack & Bobby” and CBS’s “Clubhouse.” Some 40 scripts were given to the group for review, of which 16 were selected.

Family Friendly approval doesn’t necessarily mean forum members will advertise on a particular show. And forum members do buy time on shows that are not selected, as in the case of “Father of the Pride.”

The forum’s aim is to get more family shows on the air specifically so its content-sensitive advertisers can buy more prime-time shows. The group always has strongly asserted it does not censor or change the editorial content of a show. Its involvement is only at the script stage.

“[The forum] is putting its money where its mouth is,” said Rino Scanzoni, president of national broadcast for Mediaedge:cia. “Certain shows might have never been considered, and advertisers have bought time in them. The WB, for example, has gotten a lot more money from traditional packaged-goods advertisers because there is more programming available on The WB [such as `Gilmore Girls’] for those advertisers’ particular businesses.”