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Family Guy Starring Windows 7 – Old Media Jumps the Shark

Posted on Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 by Print This Post Print This Post

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On November 8, Fox will air a version of Family Guy that is 100% commercial-free.  Originally, until calmer heads prevailed, it was to be sponsored by Microsoft as part of a larger deal with Fox to promote Windows 7.

Microsoft is spending a ton of money on the Windows 7 launch. By some accounts, this is a make-or-break moment for them, given the complete failure of Vista to take hold. I’m not so sure about the extreme doom-and-gloom. They are still the “belly button” in the computer (you get one, whether you need it or not), and will be for the foreseeable future. They will be fine.

But what does this say about the current state of television advertising?? Is this somehow like the infamous Happy Days episode in which Fonzie jumps the shark —  a stunt move meant to get people talking (you’re welcome), or does it reflect a deeper problem with old media? Are we seeing some creative revenue opportunities being exploited in a down market, or is this part of a larger trend? Online ad spending recently overtook TV in the UK, and trends would indicate that this is going to continue. Fewer people are consuming old media, and the way they are consuming it is changing. The Family Guy sponsored show may be more of a reaction to the DVR than the Internet.

Online is clearly making itself felt. Money may not have been flooding into online during the recession, but it certainly hasn’t been flowing out. Old media can’t say the same – advertisers know that they can measure results and meter spend at a very fine-grained level online. They have an embarrassing amount of data and dynamism to play with in their online campaigns. They are reaching users at the point of focused interest, where they are searching, even PLEADING for commercial information. They are getting them at work, at home, and on their iPhones.

So, yes, online makes better sense for the advertisers, and can be a better experience for consumers. But old media is still around, and may even have a strong future, in a way. It’s not clear that turning shows into full-length infomercials (infortainmentercials?) will work, but let’s see. It seems to be tweaks to the same old model, rather than trying to understand why online is compelling, and figuring out how to get the old media to acquire some of those advantages.

In fact, it may be Windows 7 itself that starts enabling a lot of this. Hulu, YouTube, iTunes and others are becoming a more interesting way of consuming media, and Windows 7, which built-in DVR functionality, will make time-shifted consumption much easier. Newspapers can regain relevance as eBooks start taking off. There are opportunities for the long-awaited “convergence” to become real.

Suddenly the old media starts looking a lot like the new media. And isn’t this always the way these things happen? No “big bang” convergence, driven by revolutionary technology, but a quiet and persistent pressure from producers and consumers to move things to a new, more optimal place.

Sharks beware!

About Carl Dunham

Carl founded The Search Agency in 2002 and serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer.

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3 Responses to “Family Guy Starring Windows 7 – Old Media Jumps the Shark”

  1. Alec Green says:

    These branded integrations are the last hope for network television. It seems the only commercials anyone talks about anymore are the “I’m a Mac” ads — which makes the unraveling of this Microsoft promotion all the more ironic. I’m sure someone at Apple is either getting a good chuckle, or negotiating with Fox to step in as the exclusive sponsor.

    With the growing popularity of DVRs and internet-streamed programming, product placement and sponsored programming will become even more prominent. And it probably won’t be long until the networks respond with a direct response offering for advertisers. Simply pause your favorite show, move your cursor over Jack Bauer’s cell phone or Eva Longoria’s sweater, and “purchase now.”

  2. Bradd Libby says:

    Occasionally I have healthy pangs of doubt about the value of ‘data-driven marketing’ and one of the quotes from the Variety article that was linked to (under ‘until calmer heads prevailed’, above) cements in my mind the need for a liberal infusion of common sense when making marketing decisions like the Family Guy tie-in:

    “We initially chose to participate in the Seth and Alex variety show based on the audience composition and creative humor of ‘Family Guy,’ but after reviewing an early version of the variety show, it became clear that the content was not a fit with the Windows brand,” said a Microsoft spokeswoman.

    I have no particular information about the internal decision-making process than what is revealed here, but in mentally translating Microsoft spokeswoman-speak to English I keep getting:

    “We initially chose to participate in the Seth and Alex variety show because we bought a report from Nielsen indicating that ‘Family Guy’ was popular among our target demographic for Windows 7, but after we realized that not one single upper-middle manager at Microsoft had actually seen an episode of ‘Family Guy’, it became clear that the content was not a fit with the Windows brand,” said a Microsoft spokeswoman.

    So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: uncomfortably homoerotic banter between Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld is a fit with the Microsoft brand, but “riffs on deaf people, the Holocaust, feminine hygiene and incest” – aka The Four Basic Food Groups of Family Guy Humor – are not? What the deuce?!

    Recent episodes of Family Guy have dealt with: Star Trek The Next Generation, Surfin’ Bird, and OJ Simpson. OJ freakin’ Simpson. The Gates/Seinfeld ad was made 10 years after Seinfeld’s show went off the air. In my opinion, Microsoft and Family Guy are a perfect fit for each other. It seems that neither of them are able to acknowledge the existence of anything that happened after about mid 1998.

  3. Bauer is super, I really think they should hurry up with the final film if they’re going to get on with it!


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