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Holiday Cheer for ABC Family’s Elf

Oct 21, 2007  •  Post A Comment

ABC Family is so hot that it can sell advertising on an elf for millions of dollars.
Buddy the Elf is an animated character who will appear between shows during ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” holiday programming block. This year, Buddy will interact with various General Mills products as part of a deal hatched during the upfront that’s estimated to be worth about $10 million.
December is usually ABC Family’s strongest month in terms of ratings and revenues, thanks to its Christmas programming. This year the “25 Days” come on the heels of the network’s best year ever as original series including the new “Greek” clicked.
After the holidays—which will start early this year on ABC Family, with a “Countdown to Christmas” lead-in to “25 Days” beginning after Thanksgiving—the channel plans to premiere new episodes of its original series rather than wait until the summer, once the exclusive home of new original programming on cable.
“We just closed out what was a great year,” said Paul Lee, president of ABC Family. “We had our best 18-to-34 ratings ever with ‘Greek’ and we made record revenues, so it really feels like the network is firing on all cylinders now.”
Back in 2001, when ABC Family was acquired from News Corp. for $3.2 billion, then Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner was criticized for overpaying for the network. But after a slow start, the network has steadily gotten its act together under Mr. Lee, who was hired in 2004 from BBC America.
In the third quarter ABC Family ranked 17th in total viewers among ad-supported cable networks. It increased its viewership among adults 18 to 34 by 35 percent in the quarter.
The network pulled off the strategic trick of keeping “family” in both its title and its mission without turning off its target audience of 18- to 28-year-olds, who have a more modern definition of “family.”
“We started it out with the launch of ‘Gilmore Girls,’ which was the perfect way to launch that idea, which is optimistic but it really talks about the issues that audience cares about,” Mr. Lee explained. “And then on the back of that we managed to launch a number of original series that really reflected that audience and that sensibility.”
Mr. Lee said it has helped that other outlets that targeted younger audiences, such as MTV, have stumbled or, like The WB, closed down altogether.
“We were able to say this is a great-quality advertising environment and you get the incredibly valuable younger audience here,” he said.
“I think they have finally started to hit a groove,” said Chris Neel, VP and director of national broadcast at Initiative.
Mr. Neel said ABC Family tends to be on the younger end of a typical buy, but when advertisers are looking for those young viewers, it can push ad prices higher.
“I think people look at ABC Family and see that there are no content issues and that it’s something that is a good-quality buy,” he said.
Laura Nathanson, executive VP for sales at the network, said it has seen significant growth in the number of advertisers, pricing and ratings. It was even able to sell the elf.
Advertisers are looking to be integrated into network programming and events, “so we started telling clients that we could take the elf and he could interact with your products, he could talk to Santa about whatever it is,” Ms. Nathanson said. “Some of the things clients wanted to do, we were like, ‘We can’t do that with Buddy the Elf.’ It was all PG, but they wanted to dress him up in certain kinds of clothes, and that wouldn’t work. Something seemed not right.”
General Mills liked the idea so much that it didn’t want to share it with any other sponsors. That helped ABC get a good price for the package. Ms. Nathanson declined to disclose how much General Mills paid. For its money, viewers will be seeing Buddy interacting with the Pillsbury Doughboy and other General Mills products during 15-second interstitials.
“The elf will be pretty well associated with whichever brand General Mills is promoting on that night,” Ms. Nathanson said.
Another big sponsor is Chrysler, which is giving away cars in both the “25 Days of Christmas” and “13 Nights of Halloween” programming blocks.
After the holidays, ABC Family plans to maintain its momentum by continuing the flow of original programming.
“You’ve now got to a world where cable is 12 months a year and those networks that were pushing hard three years ago to big replacement programs for broadcast during the summer, are now pushing just as hard to become 12-month cable franchises,” Mr. Lee said.
The network has “Lincoln Heights” on the air now, even as the broadcasters are in season-premiere mode. It will launch new seasons of “Kyle XY” and “Wildfire” in January, and “Greek” will be back in March. The network is likely to order another six episodes of “Slacker Cats,” the animated show that premiered this summer. Another batch of new shows should be ready for next summer.
ABC Family is also relaunching its Web site. It launched a “Virtual Rush” for “Greek,” and saw monthly traffic roughly double over the summer.
“We now believe that ABC family is a storytelling channel that lives on all platforms,” Mr. Lee said.

14 Comments

  1. Quick question. Is this the same “Buddy the Elf” from the New Line movie “Elf” starring Will Ferrell or is this a totally new character with the same name? Moments like this I wish Television Week had photos with their stories.

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