"Kennedys" miniseries frightens big advertisers

Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:31am EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Adweek) - National advertisers are notoriously timid when it comes to programing that might be even the slightest bit controversial.

So it was inevitable that a media frenzy over a miniseries about America's most iconic political family would result is a tough ad sales pitch for "The Kennedys." Three weeks before the eight-part series premieres April 3, ReelzChannel has failed to line up any major sponsors.

Only 20 percent of the upstart cable channel's inventory for the miniseries has been sold. Nine companies that buy across the network allowed their spots to air during the miniseries.

Granted, ReelzChannel, which picked up "The Kennedys" in January after the History channel rejected it, didn't have a lot of time (only seven weeks) to market and sell it. So some advertisers didn't have the budget. But others aren't even giving the program a chance.

"Advertisers are scared to death of this. They told us point blank, 'It's too politically hot,'" said Stan Hubbard, president and CEO of ReelzChannel, which is owned by Hubbard Broadcasting.

ReelzChannel, which is shelling out big bucks to promote the program, has done everything it can think of to pull in major sponsors. It's offered to provide screenings. It's even offered to produce 40 custom spots around the movie.

"This shouldn't be controversial. There should be plenty of businesses that should be behind it," said a frustrated Hubbard. "It's nonsensical."

Hubbard said a lot of the blame lies with the press. The perception of "The Kennedys" as a salacious, inaccurate portrayal of the famous political family was working against the ReelzChannel from the moment it picked up the miniseries. First, History claimed it wasn't historically accurate enough for the channel. Then the press took off with accusations of raunchy content and reports that the Kennedy family put the screws to History and its parent company, A&E.

Hubbard claims this is all much ado about nothing. "Once people see this, they'll wonder what the big deal was. It's well-researched, it's not salacious, it isn't Kennedy bashing," he said. "It's a great cast giving a career performance."

But while Hubbard may be frustrated, he's not surprised, and, for now, he has no regrets. Hubbard still thinks it was the best move for the network, which reaches more than 50 percent of TV households.

"We knew when we bought this what was going on. We knew it was a risk," Hubbard said.

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