In backing out of an upcoming high-profile "Family Guy" special, Microsoft had specific content concerns. But similar content has not appeared to be a problem in buying the show -- now, or over the last several years.
From 2005-2009, Microsoft bought $2,588,800 in advertising on Fox's "Family Guy," according to TNS Media Intelligence. Last season, for 2008-2009, Microsoft spent $1,866,500 on the show. More recently, Microsoft's video game "Halo 3: ODST" commercial message could be seen on "Family Guy" content on Hulu.com.
On Monday, Daily Variety reported that Microsoft backed out of an ambitious no-commercials "Family Guy" special to air on November 8 -- "Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show" -- because "it became clear that the content was not a fit with the Windows brand," according to a Microsoft spokesperson. The same response was reiterated to MediaPost on Tuesday.
Seth is Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy," who also voices many of the characters in the animated TV show. Alex is Alex Borstein, the voice of "Family Guy" matriarch Lois.
The show had typical "Family Guy"-style jokes, including material on deaf people, the Holocaust, feminine hygiene and incest.
Concerning future "Family Guy" media buys, a Microsoft spokesperson said: "We will continue to buy a range of programming on Fox and other networks as it reaches our target audiences and proves effective."
Content issues have haunted "Family Guy" for years, which limit its appeal to a smaller group of TV advertisers, media-buying executives say. But garnering big young audiences -- especially male -- has attracted major movie and home video advertisers to the show -- marketers that seem to have a lower threshold when it comes to content issues.
For the 2008-2009 season, according to TNS Media Intelligence, Sony Corp.'s Sony Picture Entertainment was the biggest spender -- buying $4.34 million of commercial time in the show;. Time Warner's Warner Bros. studio was next at $4.30 million; NBC Universal, $3.95 million; Fox Filmed Entertainment, $2.93 million; and Yum Brands, $2.9 million.
Down through the years, the irreverent Fox show has been targeted by TV pressure groups because of what it deemed inappropriate content: female and male body parts, Jews, Christians, homosexuals and an assassination of a U.S. president as the fodder for its comedy.
Microsoft was to sponsor the special as a commercial-free event to help launch Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 7 -- a new product that would have been woven into the content of the show. It was part of a bigger branded entertainment deal stretching to other areas of News Corp. media platforms.
Other parts of the deal -- not related to the TV show -- will continue for Microsoft.
According to TNS, Microsoft bought $722,300 worth of advertising time in "Family Guy" for the 2005-2006 season --- the start of the second run of the show on Fox. (The first run was from 1999-2002). This rose to $1,109,200 the next season, but dropped in the 2007-2008 year to $222,000. Microsoft then raised its budgets on the show tenfold last season -- 2008-2009 -- to nearly $2 million.
The Microsoft/Family Guy event was to be part of an all-Seth MacFarlane three-hour Sunday night during the November sweeps -- featuring "American Dad," "Family Guy," "The Cleveland Show" and the special.