With 'Family TV' Getting Old-Fashioned, Can 'Co-Viewing' Work?






Still looking for family entertainment on TV? "Modern Family" and shows like that might not entirely cut it. Big consumer product marketers continue to try to find new ways to promote family TV shows. But what is this really about?

For almost 15 years, the Association of National Advertisers' Alliance for Family Entertainment -- a group of 30-plus major consumer product companies -- has tried to fund network script development with middling viewership results.

More than 20 shows -- like "Gilmore Girls," "Chuck," "Everybody Hates Chris” and “Friday Night Lights” -- have been backed by the script-development fund. 

For many, "family" entertainment depends on the definition of “family.” Dated definitions might include words like "wholesome." Big consumer marketing companies, who carry a lot of clout, would say more specifically that they want more "co-viewing" television -- shows that parents and kids can watch together. That can be a difficult task.



So now comes a contest to glean from ordinary people -- more or less -- what a new type of a family show might be. With networks looking more to cheap reality shows -- and less to expensive scripted shows -- it is perhaps tougher to push for "family" scripted shows that might almost assuredly garner smaller pools of viewers.

For most of its run, except the last several months, TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8"  was, in fact, a show about how a big family got along in everyday life. Then things turned ugly. E!’s "Keeping up with the Kardashians"? That's another "family" reality show, perhaps about a different kind of family.

Even the likes of The CW (and its predecessors, UPN and WB) abandoned the concept of so-called family shows like "Everwood" and "Gilmore Girls." Now it offers younger-skewing shows -- like “Gossip Girl” -- that are less about traditional families.

“There was a belief there’d be a momentum in the marketplace for family-friendly programming,” Robert D. Liodice, president and chief executive of the ANA, told The New York Times, adding that recently “reality programming has begun to push family programming to the back burner.”

Some people -- especially when they talk about "values" -- believe "family" programming can be boring. As with much commercial television, family shows shouldn’t be about lessons, but about entertainment.

In the absence of that, maybe marketers should look at the bottom line of their customers by providing better incentives -- perhaps cheaper Campbell Soup or a discount of a couple of thousands of dollars on a General Motors vehicle.

Convincing networks to take more of these shows will take more work. Perhaps “family television” backers need to get more clinical and business-centric -- especially considering the continued erosion of broadcast viewers. Looking for a bigger audience?  Just call it "co-viewing television."

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