By Dick Rolfe, CEO
We are all painfully aware of the demise of the so-called “Family Hour” on network television; a time-honored tradition that brought wholesome dramas and sitcoms into our homes nightly between 8 and 10pm. A few brave programmers and consumers’ groups have tried to turn back the clock to those friendlier days, but with disappointing results. The networks seem determined to produce such deplorable television content that families are getting the message that they are not welcome as an audience segment. Some network executives have gone so far as to tell viewers to “change the channel” or “vote with their remotes” if they don’t like what’s on. The unintended consequence of such myopic boldness is to limit the audience to an 18-25 year old niche. This ultimately leaves consumer product advertisers with very few choices for reaching the family market that has been leaving the networks for kinder, gentler pastures.
According to a joint release issued by consumer product giants, Walmart and P&G, “Research revealed parents across America are seeking more family-oriented entertainment options. P&G and Walmart made a commitment to be part of the solution“.
They formed an alliance and created FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT, a unique space in the entertainment landscape designed especially for consumers who enjoy sharing a delightful movie experience in the comfort of their homes with every family member regardless of age.
Ben Simon, Walmart
Brian Wells, Flyover Ent.
I recently spoke to Ben Simon, head of global family entertainment marketing at Walmart and Brian Wells, creative development director for Flyover Studios in Cincinnati. These two men share a vision for serving up to the American family regular doses of enjoyable, inspirational television entertainment.
Dove: What was the impetus behind Family Movie Night?
Ben/Walmart: Over the past few years, we talked to several hundred thousand families across this country and what we heard was that there was a big unmet need for quality entertainment that the whole family could enjoy. Moms particularly were frustrated by the lack of family friendly options that were out there. Many said they were tired of diving for the remote control because of a scene in a show that was not compatible with their values. As a purpose-inspired brand, we’re committed to helping our customers save money so they can live better. Helping fill this unmet need for family programming is part of our brand purpose.
Dove: This welcome initiative is long overdue for providing more family friendly programming.
Ben/Walmart: We’re families too, and we’re a family brand. As such, we want to support those things that reflect the values, tastes and preferences of our consumers. We’re encouraged! We feel that we’re on the threshold of a real renaissance in family programming.
Dove: Some might consider this effort censorship, but isn’t it really more about smart marketing?
Ben/Walmart: Well, yes. Consumers judge brands by the company they keep. We want to be in an environment that reflects what our consumers are looking for.
Brian/Flyover Ent: Moms and dads and teenagers have told us they long for entertainment that in engaging from a story standpoint and something that the family can enjoy together. And there’s been a shift in thinking over the last 10 years that you have to choose between great entertainment and stories that call out the best in us. Family members tell us that they want both. We feel that we’ve been able to deliver both attributes in our three previous movies, “Secrets of the Mountains,” “The Jensen Project,” and A Walk in My Shoes.” The feedback we’re getting from viewers is that they appreciate these stories because they are engaging and fun and at the end of the day provide family members with an experience they can enjoy together.
Dove: I have enjoyed seeing these movies made for television on the major networks like NBC and FOX. How have the networks responded?
Ben/Walmart: The networks we’ve worked with have been very encouraging on this project. When you have two companies like Walmart and P&G step up with support for programming like this you get a positive response. The audiences have also responded positively.
Brian/Flyover Ent: The conventional wisdom at the networks has been, “we don’t make this kind of programming because no one watches it.” We’ve had to prove in the marketplace that there is an audience for family programming. Family is not a niche market. There are 35 million moms and 75 million kids under age 18. That is not a niche…that is a mass! The small niche is the 18-25 year old which is what a lot of today’s programming is targeted toward.
Ben/Walmart: By programming to that smaller demo, they have pushed the family out. We’d like to see big ratings brought back to television. By having consumers and families “vote with their remotes” we can demonstrate that there is a need and desire for quality programming like this. We can do this for a very long time, if the audience supports it.
Dove: The FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT is a great brand. Are you going to be producing these movies at regular intervals so families can adjust their routines to a predicable schedule?
Brian/Flyover Ent: Yes. We began with one movie per quarter in 2010 to get feedback from consumers to make sure this is what they want. We have strong confidence based on how well the first three movies did (they ranked #1 and #2 and tied for #2 in their respective timeslots). After “Change of Plans” airs in January, we’re planning on producing these movies at a regular cadence.
Dove: Can you share what that cadence might look like into the future?
Brian/Flyover Ent: We’ll begin with a monthly cadence and ultimately a weekly cadence later in the year. All of the movies are in effect, backdoor pilots, meaning that this is a launch pad for some that may wind up as regular network series.
Ben/Walmart: Eventually there will be a rhythm where families can find programming at least once a week, whether a movie, a series, or special; just so it’s something they can enjoy together as a family.
Dove: Due to the demise of the so-called “Family Hour” parents are looking for something predictable where they can gather their families around a joint entertainment experience on television.
Ben/Walmart: Mom’s have become the family gatekeeper, protecting their families from all the bad stuff that’s out there. Mom’s told us that they want entertainment, mixed with hope and joy.
Dove: To your credit, the movies in this series that I’ve seen so far are character driven with positive uplifting messages rather than the typical heavy-handed crime dramas being served up.
Brian/Flyover Ent: The term “reality television” is thrown around frequently. Often, programmers of that type of programming believe that “real” means “cynical’. We believe that is a false choice; we can show characters who face stresses or challenges but with hopeful and inspiring solutions.
Dove: Have you been tracking viewer response?
Ben/Walmart: We’ve seen positive, affirming response from consumers; from encouraging letters to management to personal comments to our store associates. We believe in the double bottom line of doing good and doing well. We’re using our media dollars to support programming that offers our customers what they tell us they want.
Dove: At Dove, we’re usually focused on movies and DVDs. Long form television is within that category, so we’ve been able to review and endorse your movies. Which titles are available on DVD?
The cast from “Change of Plans”
Ben/Walmart: All three; “Secrets of the Mountains,” “Jensen Project,” and “A Walk in My Shoes” are now available exclusively, for the time being, at Walmart.
Brian/Flyover Ent: We’d like to encourage your supporters to watch FOX on Saturday, January 8th at 8/7c to see our latest FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT film, “Change of Plans.” We have a wonderful cast and an inspiring story about what family really means; one more reason to vote with your remote.
Dove: We look forward to working with Walmart and P&G on future FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT movies.
Brian/Flyover Ent: I want to take this opportunity to thank The Dove Foundation. My wife and I use your reviews extensively for our family. We have a 15 year-old son and 12 year-old daughter. It’s a great service and we really appreciate it.
Dove: Thank you. It’s always nice being recognized by those we serve. And, thanks to both of you for taking time from your busy Holiday schedules to take my call.
Note: Now is the time for everyone to support this family-friendly entertainment initiative and spread the word about FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT.