Forum focuses on content: Ratings dismal for family friendly fare

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"family friendly" programs turn out not to be very ratings friendly.

The TV shows created by a script development fund at The Family Friendly Programming Forum, a group of 48 national advertisers, have for the most part underperformed in delivering ratings. But the advertisers who back them contend they are more interested in subsidizing content than in getting high Nielsen numbers.

"Are these shows all in the top five or top 10? No, but so what?" said Kaki Hinton, Forum co-chair and VP-advertising services at Pfizer. "Just because a show is lower-rated doesn't mean it's a bad show. They have their own following, and they are touching the viewers in some way. Our optimum goal would be to make it to the top 20 or 15. It hasn't happened yet, but it can."

The Forum was launched in 1999 by the Association of National Advertisers, to support family-oriented programming in an effort to reclaim the 8 p.m. EST slot as the family hour. Since 2001, Forum members, including Procter & Gamble Co., Ford Motor Co. and Unilever, have backed a "family friendly script-development fund" that pays for the writing of screenplays with wholesome storylines. Member advertisers then buy media time around the shows.

This week, the Forum is set to present its latest efforts at the ANA's TV Forum in New York on March 10. Ms. Hinton said the Forum reviewed 19 scripts for The WB and 9 for ABC for next season.

While the group has been successful spreading the good cause in the industry, it has not spread much around in terms of profits. In June 2003, the forum helped develop several high-profile programs that have all struggled in their time slots: "Steve Harvey's Big Time," "Like Family" and "All About the Andersons," all on The WB.

stiff competition

The average household rating so far this season for "Steve Harvey" is 2.3, according to Nielsen Media Research. The lackluster showing has something to do with the competition. The show is on at 8 p.m. Thursdays in the ultra-competitive slot opposite NBC's "Friends," which posted a 13.5 average household rating. "Andersons," which follows at 8:30 p.m., has averaged a 2.0 to date this season opposite NBC's "Will & Grace," which registered a 10.2 average household rating. Forum's "Tracy Morgan" a midseason addition to the NBC schedule, has averaged a respectable 4.1 rating to date.

seven drop-outs

Since 2000, the forum has supported 10 programs, three of which have dropped out: ABC's midseason action/adventure "Veritas," and "Raising Dad" and the remake of "A Family Affair," both on WB. With the exception of "Tracy Morgan," the latest batch of Forum programs, however, are all "on the fence," according to executives with knowledge of the matter, saying it's not clear whether they will be renewed.

"Our first goal was to get shows into certain time periods. ... The networks are all coming to us now and saying `let's work for success,'" said Bill McCarron, co-chair of the Forum and exec VP-media services at Verizon.

The forum's first success story was "Gilmore Girls," in its fourth season on the WB. But the show has only garnered a 3.05 household rating this season in its 8 p.m. slot opposite formidable competitors including "American Idol" on Fox. A spokesman at the WB said "Girls" will be picked up for a fifth season. The Forum is also going into syndication for the first time with the "Gilmore Girls."

"The members are all business people," said Barbara Bacci Mirque, senior VP, ANA. "It needs to be a cost-effective program, so there needs to be eyeballs watching the shows."

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