In the Family Way

The Family Friendly Programming Forum launched in 1998 with a fairly straightforward goal: to persuade the broadcast networks to put on more prime time programs that are suitable for advertisers with brands geared to families.

Eight years later, and the FFPF is still at it but without much notoriety, helping to fund pilot scripts this season for ABC’s Commander in Chief, UPN’s Everybody Hates Chris and The WB’s Related, in addition to the long- running Gilmore Girls. The most recent addition is CBS’ New Adventures of Old Christine, premiering March 13.

Even without FFPF’s influential hand, Kaki Hinton, co-chairperson of the group and VP of advertising services at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, says the prime time lineup on the broadcast networks has become decidedly more family-friendly since the group was founded.

“If you look at the prime time network programming grid, by our definition, there is at least one family-friendly viewing alternative every night of the week from 8 to 10 p.m.,” she says. “I’m not only talking about programs that we have underwritten. I am talking about shows like American Idol, George Lopez, According to Jim, King of Queens, Wife Swap, Dancing With the Stars, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and The Apprentice, to name a few.”

The FFPF made its biggest splash in 2000, when it underwrote the pilot for Gilmore Girls, a hit that remains on The WB and will likely cross over to the new CW network.

Since that premiere, the group has quietly gone about its business, underwriting network scripts, holding an annual symposium, handing out Family Television Awards, and growing its membership from 10 advertisers at launch to 44 today.

Current members include major advertisers such as Coca-Cola, Ford, Kraft, McDonald’s, Nestlé and Wal-Mart.

But the FFPF also updated its definition of family-friendly programming in 2004, making it more inclusive of shows that deal with adult topics in a manner appropriate to family viewing.

“The key here is defining what family-friendly programming is in today’s environment,” says Hinton. “It’s not about Ozzie & Harriet or Leave It to Beaver. It’s about programming that engages today’s audience, that reflects diversity, that has cross-generational appeal, and that addresses real-life issues, as long as they are addressed responsibly.” (It’s easy to offend: A holiday episode of Everybody Hates Chris upset some parents because it spilled the beans about Santa.)

Hinton says the FFPF’s reworked definition of family-friendly programs has each of the broadcast networks submitting scripts to the group. The FFPF evaluates them, and then members decide which will be underwritten.

“When the definition was further refined during our second symposium in November 2004, the next year we had all six broadcast networks involved in our script-development initiative,” she says. “There were 62 scripts submitted. We selected 16, and, of those, four actually went to series.”

While the FFPF has broadened its definition of family-friendly programming, the group’s primary goal remains unchanged: ensuring that advertisers looking for this type of content aren’t left out of prime time.

There aren’t any hard facts to prove that the programs associated with the FFPF receive more ad dollars than they would without that association.

But Bill Cella, chairman/CEO of media-buying agency Magna Global Worldwide and an FFPF Executive Committee member, says ad spending on these programs is substantial.

“We have done some tracking,” he says. “There has been a stunning amount of money put into these shows. I don’t know if [members] advertise more, but if they have brands that are appropriate for family programming, they will definitely put money behind these shows.”

Hinton estimates that advertisers spent $743 million between October 2000 and August 2004 on FFPF programs, such as Gilmore Girls, ABC’s 8 Simple Rules and NBC’s American Dreams.

Moreover, a spokesperson for CBS says the ad-sales team at that network doesn’t shy away from touting the FFPF’s association to advertisers looking to promote their brands on inoffensive programs.

“It’s hard to say if the association closes deals, but it doesn’t hurt,” she says. “The endorsement is something to be proud of, and, if we think it will help in negotiations, we’ll definitely mention it.”