'Curious George' Feeling Lonely on PBS

Show Has Strong Ratings but No Product Placement and Just One Sponsor

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NEW YORK -- On the big screen, "Curious George" was a veritable marketing jungle, rife with plenty of opportunities for brands such as Volkswagen and Dole to receive prime product placement throughout the film. The small screen, however, is a different story.
Though the children's marketplace is getting harder to break into, PBS's ad-discriminating nature means the network isn't top-of-mind for marketers.
Though the children's marketplace is getting harder to break into, PBS's ad-discriminating nature means the network isn't top-of-mind for marketers.

The serialized TV version of "Curious George" on PBS has thus far only secured one of four sponsorship spots since premiering in September 2006, despite an initial 5.7 rating among children aged 5-7. The show continues to reach more than 9 million viewers throughout the week, besting competitors Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and even Disney in its time slot.

Searching for sponsorship partners
Real-estate company Shea Homes came on board early on to serve as the show's first sponsorship partner, but the Sponsorship Group for Public Television is hoping to attract more partners from other categories as well. Given the increasing impenetrability of the children's marketplace -- particularly on the ad-discriminating PBS -- that presents a few challenges.

"The days of ads showing kids eating huge quantities of stuff are over," said Paul Kurnit, founder and president of Kid Shop in Chappaqua, N.Y. "Companies are policing themselves and pulling back in advertisers of high-fat, high-sugar foods."

"Certainly the kids' space is changing. A lot of companies have been traditional advertisers on commercial television and sponsors on public television," said Marcia Hertz, managing director-marketing and client services, national sponsorship, for the SGPTV. "PBS, even though it doesn't sell traditional advertising, feels repercussions just as other networks do."

And because PBS shows rarely fill all their sponsorship slots, it's also not the first place marketers turn. That's where Ms. Hertz and the sponsorship group come in to spread the word about PBS' popularity among families. "We hear anecdotally from parents all the time they can leave their kids in the room and don't need to monitor them because it's PBS and they can trust that environment."

Not top of mind for advertisers
The network prohibits product placement in its programming, however, which may also be another reason PBS isn't top of mind for most advertisers.

Ms. Hertz would like to see more sponsors from the automotive and food categories along the lines of recent PBS deals with Subaru for "Antiques Roadshow" and Chick-fil-A for their Between the Lions PBS Kids site. With strong TV ratings and more than 2 million visits to the "Curious George" site per month, she hopes marketers soon see the "huge benefit" to coming on board with the series.

"One of the other things that's really strong about PBS is the core viewership numbers are really high. If you look at the demographics, we do very well among ladies of the household with young kids. What we know is that parents do watch PBS with their kids so they are in fact reaching many of the parents."
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