At Forum’s 5th Birthday, Need to Grow Is Tall Order

Executives were upbeat at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills last week, as the Family Friendly Programming Forum celebrated five years of funding the development of network-TV shows for all viewers. But the group, which includes some of the nation’s biggest advertisers and media agencies, cautioned that viewers still have serious problems with what they and their kids see on the small screen.

About 200 by-invitation attendees, including client, agency and network executives, were at the FFPF’s first symposium, a half-day of panels and presentations on the state of family-friendly TV. (The group defines that category as any programming parents can watch with their kids without being embarrassed.) The forum has more than 40 advertiser members that spend about $13 billion annually on network TV—more than half the total spent in the medium by the top 100 advertisers.

“There was an amazing amount of interest in being here,” said Bill McCarron, vp/media and sponsorships at forum member Verizon. “We’ll be successful if the only thing we do is generate great scripts that will be hits, not just placeholders.”

Since 2000, three of the shows backed by the forum have become hits: WB’s Gilmore Girls; ABC’s 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter; and NBC’s American Dream. Four new FFPF-backed shows will air on the networks in 2003-04: Like Family, All About the Andersons, Steve Harvey’s Big Time and The Tracy Morgan Show. Susan Lyne, president of ABC Entertainment, told the symposium the forum “had a huge impact on the direction we took going into the fall.”

But speaker Dawn Jacobs, vp of advertising at Johnson & Johnson, said, “There is an ongoing need to advertise in programs appropriate for families,” adding that “after 9/11, families want to watch together.”

Viewers still perceive that TV is dangerous for kids to watch. Lance McAlindon, research manager at forum member Procter & Gamble, unveiled findings from a phone survey of 600 people this month that showed 70 percent of respondents believe there is less family-friendly programming on TV today than five years ago. What’s more, 64 percent said there is less now than a year ago.

Only 16 percent of viewers said TV has a positive impact on them and their children. The four changes viewers want to see most in prime time are more positive portrayals of parents (84 percent); characters with high moral values (80 percent); no profanity (60 percent); and faith in God (60 percent.)

The lack of family-friendly programming in prime time led to the FFPF’s creation in 1998. That year, top clients including former P&G global marketing chief and symposium speaker Bob Wehling met in New York to address how to develop family shows in an environment dominated by programs geared to urban singles, such as Friends, and marked by fragmentation in American TV households. (Research from Magna Global, Interpublic Group’s negotiating unit, showed that from 1985 to 2000, the percentage of homes with three or more TV sets soared from 19 percent to 41 percent.)

In June 1998, Andrea Alstrup, J&J corporate vp of advertising and the FFPF’s founder, spoke on the issue at an Advertising Women of New York event. The subsequent formation of the forum gained the support of many other advertisers, including Kellogg, Coca-Cola, Bristol-Myers, AT&T, Kraft, Pfizer, Ford, General Motors and Sears. Media-agency leaders also have lent their active support, including Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of WPP Group global media network GroupM, and Bill Cella, CEO of Magna Global, both of whom attended the symposium.