Once upon a time there was a certain perception of how a family should look on the small screen. Mom was in the kitchen, perfectly styled, fixing white collar-employed Dad his dinner just as one of their precocious kids seeks his advice. Any challenges that may have arisen were neatly, and happily, concluded by episode end. And, for many, family friendly was an escape from the realities of any personal difficulties.
The family programming theme was on the forefront of the early days of television, evolving over the years and never ultimately straying from that basic formula where love and support is always the foundation. But with time came the rise in the number of series with a so-called "edgier" format, where violence and gore, sexually charged themes, and a focus on dysfunction, among other elements, became more of an attraction to networks and advertisers in search of the buzz factor, particularly in today's socially infused atmosphere.
"If a program is shocking and bloody and controversial, the media covers it. And it becomes top of mind to everybody," said Robert Russo, President and CEO of RNR Media Consulting. "Shows that are good family fun entertainment fight for attention by the media simply because there is no shock value. You need to do something insane to get the attention, which for a family-themed outlet could compromise the brand."
"It's a consensus here in Hollywood among people who have their hands on the steering wheel that family is not cool, at least not in the traditional sense," noted Tim Winter, President at Parents Television Council. "With the advent of the Internet and streaming media, not to mention the 300 some-odd cable networks, folks are much more eager to talk about a rape scene on "Game of Thrones" than they are, perhaps, about a family coping with every day issues."
"But there are exceptions to the norm where programmers now emphasize the value, and the reach, of the family brand," added Winter. "And what a network like UP demonstrates is why programming of a pro-family nature can also be of great value, both for the audience, of all ages, and the advertising community."
With the tagline "We Get Family," UP TV offers a mixture of original programming and off-network product, morphing from inspirational and family friendly to a more mainstream family focused platform where the definition of the family unit is now multi-faceted. "Whether it's making the shows or acquiring them, our goal is to shine the light in the best creative way possible on the very relatable situations we all go through in real life," said Amy Winter, EVP and General Manager at UP (no relation to Tim Winter). "With a focus on providing compelling and engaging content to adults, particularly to the Mom in the household, we offer content where parents are comfortable watching with their children most of the time."
Original UP series include the docuseries "Bringing Up Bates", "Growing Up McGhee," and upcoming "Small Town, Big Mayor," as well as upcoming scripted dramedy "Date My Dad." There is also a slate of original Christmas movies, and populating the off-network department are "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "Supernanny;" comedies "Everybody Hates Chris," "The Parkers" and "Growing Pains;" and scripted hours "Gilmore Girls," "7th Heaven," "Parenthood," and "Heartland."
"One of the things we try really hard to make people understand is that as long as you are a member of a family in any form or fashion what UP represents will likely resonate with you," explained UP's Winter. "On 'Gilmore Girls,' for example, the best friend relationship that Sookie has with Lorelai is closer than some sisters have. What we highlight in our branding pieces is that the definition of family is not just necessarily parent to child, and we look for programming to accentuate that."
Record Ratings and a Young Skew
UP recently had its youngest quarter to-date with the median age in second quarter 2016 at 48 years - nine years younger than the year-ago second quarter. Additionally, UP, in that same quarter, increased year-to-year by 70 percent in adults 18-34, 67 percent in adults 18-49 and 71 percent in women 18-34, rising to its highest rated quarter historically in all three demographics.
"What this proves, if anything, is that our particular brand of storytelling is also of interest to the millennial generation," noted UP's Amy Winter. "Everyone thinks the way to speak to them is via darker and edgier programming. But ratings growth and the sudden younger average age of our audience show that millennials are responding to our positive storytelling and recognize the importance of family. Happily, the advertising community has also taken notice."
Family Audience is Big, Attractive and Effective to Advertisers
In a recent Nielsen family entertainment brand impact study (using 2,400 respondents) commissioned by Scripps Networks Interactive and UP to determine the impact of family shows on ad effectiveness, the results show that ads seen in TV-G/TV-PG rated programming are more effective in generating attention and purchase intent than commercials appearing in television shows with TV-14 and TV-MA ratings. These findings confirm an earlier study by Ohio State University which found that programs featuring violence and sex result in decreased brand memory, negative brand attitudes and decreased purchase intent.
"The first thing we found from the study was there were a lot of people interested in family television," explained Ron Plante, SVP, Audience Research and Strategy at UP. "There are an estimated 35-million people in the age range of 18-54 living in cable+ households who qualify. Ads in a TV-G and a TV-PG environment are seen differently than when they are in a TV-14 or TV-MA environment."
Commercials running in a family friendly environment (including consumer packaged goods, retail, fast food, automotive, clothing and alcoholic beverages), in particular, scored 27 percent higher in the study in the various attributes of interest in the products, the attention to the brands, and the purchase intent.
"The bottom-line is people react more positively to ads in family environments, and there can be a multiplier effect," added Plante. "If you reach a 'family minded' viewer in a family environment you are really hitting an ad homerun."
"Small Town, Big Mayor" and "Date My Dad"
Ignited by the ratings growth, younger skew and the documented value to advertisers, UP is busy developing the next generation of original programming targeted to family. Two such upcoming programs are comedic docuseries "Small Town, Big Mayor" and scripted dramedy "Date My Dad" (w.t.).
Set in the town of D'Lo, Mississippi, population 456, "Small Town, Big Mayor" follows John Henry Berry, the mayor and father of four, as he plans to revitalize the town. "Date My Dad," meanwhile, tells the story of Ricky Cooper, a single dad raising three teenage daughters. Three years after losing their mother, Isabella, the girls resolve to get their dad back in the dating game.
"Date My Dad" debuts in second quarter 2017, followed by "Small Town, Big Mayor" in third quarter.
"Our programming goal is to showcase people who are decent at heart and are trying to go about life the best way they can, but they are sometimes faced with things they are not equipped to handle," said Barbara Fisher, SVP, Original Programming, UP. "We are trying to be as honest and entertaining as we can, without being preachy and with a real sense of humor."
"GilMORE the Merrier"
"Gilmore Girls" will be showcased on UP in seven-day marathon, "GilMORE the Merrier," leading up to the 3 a.m. ET launch of "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life" on Netflix, a series of four 90-minute revival installments reuniting the beloved characters from fictional Stars Hollow. All 153 episodes will be featured, including trivia pop-ups and commentary by podcast personalities the "Gilmore Guys," beginning on Friday, Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. ET.
"Gilmore Girls was probably the purest form of family viewing that I have ever seen," noted Fisher. "It was a true show that attracted multi-generations, and I think that is what we are looking for. The networks are afraid that family is synonymous with old and it does not have to be. You have to have a contemporary sense to it and be part of the world as it is now."
"If anything, the decision by Netflix to revive "Gilmore Girls" only magnifies the notion that focusing on family can be cool," added RNR Media's Robert Russo.
In addition to UP's linear channel and a third Christmas video with pro-social initiative "Uplift Someone," the network launched UP Faith & Family, a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service offering exclusive family and faith-friendly entertainment with a library of over 600 quality dramas, family comedies, exclusive UP original series, movies, animated features and more. UP Faith & Family is offered on Amazon, Comcast Xfinity, Dish, Google Fiber and directly at Upfaithandfamily.com.
"With the UPs of the world; they're doing good stuff...it's wonderful," noted Tim Winter of The Parents Television Council. "We now have a few options when a few years ago we did not have any options. And that in itself is all the more reason to support an outlet like UP that totally gets it."
"My suggestion to UP is to keep doing what they're doing," added Russo. "Know your brand and never deviate from what is already working, but do utilize the available broadcasting outlets to advertise the brand and educate the community about what they are missing. The more we alert the community about what UP, and other family focused outlets are doing, the stronger our broadcasting foundation will grow."