Family-Friendly Programming: When Ratings Take Dive, Where Do Advertisers Go?

Here's the dirty little secret about family-friendly programming: advertisers say they want more of it, but when a family show's ratings sink, few go to much lengths to keep it alive.

Advertiser may want all those good, morally upright shows as a place for their hard-earned and ever more complicated media dollars, but low-rated family TV shows are always left in the lurch. It's just media business 101.

The blunt fact is, economics-wise, it's hard to run a network on just family-oriented programming. No matter what advertisers say about family programming, in no way will they sacrifice any GRPs for overall moral fortitude. This is still a business.

When programs blessed by advertisers as family shows crash and burn--be it this year's "Runaway," which came and went in a flash from the CW, or "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," which lasted only a couple of seasons on ABC--what happens then?



Do we see a rush of those 40 top national advertisers rushing to the aid of those shows, telling the network that they'll double their price--or even add another 15%--for a 30-second commercial to keep the show aloft? Nope.

Those advertisers run in another direction--perhaps grousing under their collective breath that network programming executives can't seem to come up with high-rated family programming. But if high ratings really matter--and highbrow family stuff, not so much-- why not buy all the "Jerry Springer" or "Friday Night Smackdown" you can get? I'm sure some families watch those shows.

You can't have it both ways.

Why couldn't a Pfizer, Kodak, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, or American Express, have saved that CBS family show of a few years back, "Joan of Arcadia"? The show achieved modest-to-low Friday night ratings. But that wasn't the worst of it. It had a median age that was on par with "60 Minutes." So the show was burned at the rating stake.

Except for perhaps one show, "American Idol"--which seemingly brings in all comers, young, old, rich and poor--in a good family environment, there aren't that many network shows that give advertisers everything they want.

Sure, national advertisers fund some initial and modest script development work for family programming, but that doesn't do much for heavy-duty TV economics. If family programming is that important, why shouldn't advertisers pay more to advertise on those shows, since in theory those are the programs they value higher than others?

Here's why: The glow of any family-friendly programming honor doesn't really carry much gravitas when looking down the barrel of a 1.9 adult 18-49 program rating.

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