SPECIAL REPORT: CYNOPSIS MEDIA PRESENTS: Inside Today’s Family Co-Viewing Craze 04.30.14


By Cathy Applefeld Olson

Family co-viewing. Not since "TV dinner" has a phrase been so widely extolled in the kids media market.

Networks’ drive to offer TV together time is, of course, largely advertiser-driven. Having mom and dad in the room means they just might catch that commercial for best new family car, vacation spot or insurance policy. Kids are more influential than ever in family purchasing decisions, and this year’s Upfronts firmly demonstrated a big leap beyond the traditional kids categories of toys, media and food.

"The kids’ market has definitely changed. Our biggest growth category has been non-endemic advertisers," says Ron Geraci, EVP of Research at Nickelodeon, where in 2013 non-endemic revenue was up 15% with big deal-makers including Toyota, the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Tennis Association. "These aren’t advertisers just coming to Nick at Nite. These are partners who want to be on all of our kids’ platforms because of our family appeal."


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But there’s more to the picture. The rise of segmented programming has produced fabulous content targeting specific adults or kids, but left a gaping hole that used to be filled by the Cosbys and the Cunninghams from Happy Days. Parents are nostalgic; kids are hungry to connect. Consistently, in every piece of recent research, today’s kids value family time above all else. "We all were fans of the TGIF shows-it was always a surprise to me that the franchise disappeared," says Nicole Cleary, Hub Network’s VP of national ad sales.

"What we started seeing several years ago is that families were looking for ways to watch television together," says Alison Bryant, co-founder of PlayCollective, which provides research and consults for a host of children’s media companies. "The ’90s into the 2000s saw a big decline in content for the family. So the conversation in the industry has now hit a bubbling point."

Bubbling over, in fact. The question now is, how are networks differentiating their family viewing proposition from one another?

"The Disney brand has always been a family brand-it’s our legacy," Gary Marsh, president/chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide, tells CynKids. For Disney Channel, "We knew that rather than strictly target kids, we could be more effective as programmers, and more inclusive, if we facilitated experiences that the whole family could enjoy together." The network’s mantra, he adds, is "kid-driven, family inclusive."

Hub Network was created four years ago as a family viewing center, and this year is hammering home its commitment to that market by shifting the primetime programming focus from acquired content to series developed in-house. On the slate are an original series featuring Internet phenom Kid President, and Freaky Friday-esque reality show Parents Just Don’t Understand.

"We had never produced programming specifically for prime time. All of our primetime programming had been acquired, and we hadn’t make a financial investment," says network president Margaret Loesch. "I felt like the network wouldn’t succeed long-term on just acquired programming in prime. So rarely do families get to sit down and be together, and it’s treasured time. And television has always been the place to gather."


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Speakers Include:
Moderator: Cathy Applefeld Olson – Editor {Cynopsis Kids!}
Erin Dippold
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At Turner, the decision to flip Boomerang into an ad-supported network is not, in fact, all about ad revenue, says Joe Hogan, EVP, Kids & Young Adult Ad Sales. "The opportunity on Boomerang is not for us to simply have another commercial network, but to offer programs that parents and kids can enjoy together," he says.

For the nets targeting the youngest viewers and their adults, catching parents in "caring-for-their-family-mindset" is critical, says Sprout president Sandy Wax. PBS Kids sprinkles its programming slate with characters like Curious George that parents love and kids love to discover. And at BabyFirst, "We offer such a playful environment, and it’s interactive," says new EVP ad sales, MJ Cavanagh. "Moms are looking for ways to interact with their babies and preschoolers."
No matter what age the children, family viewing is generally not happening the way it did back in the day, notes Bryant. With few exceptions including DVR’d movies and some SVOD content, "for most TV content, family viewing doesn’t mean literally every person in the family is sitting in front if the TV. It usually happens in duads or triads," she says.

"How do you take what works well in movies-we hear a lot about National Treasure and what Marvel and Pixar deliver and create high-action TV that’s kid appropriate, and often has higher production costs?" Bryant asks. "Family programming on TV still tends to be sitcoms and game shows. We don’t have a lot of action that works well across the family."

Event movies are drawing families at many of the kids networks, particularly Disney Channel. Last year’s Teen Beach Movie "connected with kids, families, moms and even grandmoms," says Rita Ferro, EVP, Disney Media Sale and Marketing. "It was a cross-generational success story." No surprise, the network just greenlit the sequel for next year, and is also pinning big family-viewing hopes on upcoming movie Descendants, about the offspring of some of the studio’s biggest villains.

Co-viewing is also big around awards shows events, a fact that wasn’t overlooked when Nickelodeon recently decided to spin off its Kids’ Choice Awards concept to a Kids Sports Choice show. This past year’s Kids Choice delivered its largest-ever co-viewing audience, says Geraci, who notes 35% of K2-11 watched with an adult-a 25% increase over last year. "Event programming will continue to be a big co-viewing opportunity for us," he says. "The new Kids Choice Sports is another example of how we want to take something that’s very relevant in kids’ lives today-sports–and give them a voice and an opportunity to create a big event the whole family will love."

As they continue to woo families, Bryant says kid-centric networks should consider that their biggest TV competition may be coming from outside the kids media realm. "Reality [competition] shows are interesting; families really enjoy watching them. We’ve seen lots of strong interest recently with Dancing With the Stars." Other shows scoring big in recent PlayCollective research are Discovery Channel‘s Mythbusters, and shows on Scripps’ Travel Channel and Food Network.

"They hit all the points. They’re educational, which parents love–and kids love to learn," she says. "My big question is always, are they really watching? Based on our experience in homes, sometimes parents are in the room with the kids but to get them to watch the shows and be engaged in them is a whole different story."

In the end, the proof will be in the programming. As Loesch looks forward to Hub Network’s upcoming originals, she says, "Let’s see what the programming looks like. If it resonates with parents and kids, we’ve done our job. If it resonates with only one or the other, we haven’t."

Cheers — Cathy Applefeld Olson

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