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Doggone Demos


 

One of my favourite subjects is the weirdness of having the 18-49 demographic as the only one that Counts, so of course I had to read this article by Brian Lowry of Variety (paywall’d) about how the broadcast networks — not just CBS — have a problem: some of their dramas are able to draw a lot of viewers, but they’re the kind that the network can’t monetize.

One of the most famous examples is The Good Wife, which is the best drama on broadcast TV but also happens to be one of the oldest-skewing dramas on broacast TV. It gets well over 10 million viewers every week, but three-quarters of them are over 49. (The NCIS twins, which precede it on the schedule, have almost as high a percentage of older viewers but, with more total viewers, are able to pick up a higher 18-49 rating.) If you evaluate it by total viewers, it’s a solid success; by 18-49 rating, it’s a bubble show.

Now NBC has a similar issue with the new show Harry’s Law. In spite of people like me tut-tutting that David E. Kelley has done all this before, it is probably the most popular new show NBC has introduced this season. But its viewers are largely over 60.

So what’s a network to do when a show does what most shows cannot — attract a lot of viewers — but can’t translate those viewers into dollars? As Lowry says, it’s not as simple and clear-cut as it would be if these shows were just unpopular:

The interesting question is how networks other than CBS will handle programs with these kind of demographic profiles. If a series is wholly rejected by viewers, that’s easy: You cancel it. But what happens when a show attracts 10-12 million viewers — a “hit” by today’s standards, strictly in terms of cultural reach — but only a small portion of that audience is salable under the current ad-supported system?

For starters, networks might try to change the yardstick. CBS has long touted the importance of the Baby Boom generation — whose eldest members have begun turning 65 — while NBC recently presented research about the buying power and purchasing habits of “AlphaBoomers,” those age 55-64, typically judged by advertisers to be too set in their ways to try new products, without going quite so far as to prod media buyers to ante up for that demo.

Advertisers, however, will give ground on that front grudgingly, and despite their mutual interest in wringing additional value out of an aging audience, the networks — which haven’t exhibited any ability to act in concert — have little hope of making serious inroads on a piecemeal basis.

I tend to think that advertisers probably sort of know what they’re doing, at least collectively. It doesn’t mean they’re right, but they do have some legitimate reasons for believing that over-50 viewers aren’t as valuable to them. It’s not a question of older people being uncool or whatever they’re being mocked for this week (making fun of old people for watching The Mentalist seemed to become one of the hackiest jokes of 2010). But over-50 people may be more committed to a particular brand and less easily swayed from changing it, and because they’re used to living without recently-introduced technology, they’re less anxious to run out and buy it. Someone who lived a long time without a cell phone might buy a cell phone — once. Someone who can hardly imagine adult life without a cell phone is the one to aim for if you want them to throw away the perfectly good phone they already have and get a slightly better one.

The 18-49 emphasis probably should change, if only because the broadcast networks are all getting an older audience and eventually it’ll be a choice between a) Finding ways to monetize the ways young people are consuming TV, or b) Finding ways to monetize the people who are still watching “live.” The latter way is probably easier and the networks can usually be counted on to take the easy way.

It might happen if, as Lowry puts it, the networks manage to “act in concert” and really, collectively push some new demographic standards to supplement the 18-49 and 25-54 ones. This will not happen any time soon, because why should a younger-skewing network help out CBS? But the way things are going, soon all the networks will be CBS in their demographic profile, and once that happens, it might be time to get together for some good old-fashioned collusion.


 
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Doggone Demos

  1. I prefer to think of my demographic (definitely over 49) not as "set in our ways" but rather as "too smart to be fooled by advertising." Same effect, different perspective.

  2. I prefer to think of my demographic (definitely over 49) not as "set in our ways" but rather as "too smart to be fooled by advertising." Same effect, different perspective.

    • I even wonder how traditionally salable their target demographic are? Don't most of these people TiVO everything and skip the commercials? I would think product placement would be more valuable than 15- or 30-second spots in this day and age.

      • I buy almost all my TV via iTunes. And that's cuz I'm honest and I don't simply use torrent to get everything for free.

    • "too smart to be fooled by advertising."

      And yet, which demographic is most highly valued by con artists?

    • Of course with a lifespan that stretches to over 200 years, over 49 is not necessarily that old. This allows you to cameo plausibly in more movies than Kirk, (much to Shatner's chagrin), perhaps it also allows you to mindlessly follow the latest trends?

  3. They are still catering to the Boomers…..the youngest of which is now 46.

    Time marches on. Networks don't apparently.

  4. They are still catering to the Boomers…..the youngest of which is now 46.

    Time marches on. Networks don't apparently.

  5. I even wonder how traditionally salable their target demographic are? Don't most of these people TiVO everything and skip the commercials? I would think product placement would be more valuable than 15- or 30-second spots in this day and age.

  6. Surely there are marketers that specialize in selling to demographics "of a certain age". Maybe advertisers can haggle with the networks over the rates they charge for these shows.

    It'll be funny when every ad on CSI is for Acorn Stair Lifts, No-Medical Life Insurance, Ensure, Blood Glucose Meters, and CHIP Home Income Plan.

  7. Surely there are marketers that specialize in selling to demographics "of a certain age". Maybe advertisers can haggle with the networks over the rates they charge for these shows.

    It'll be funny when every ad on CSI is for Acorn Stair Lifts, No-Medical Life Insurance, Ensure, Blood Glucose Meters, and CHIP Home Income Plan.

  8. I buy almost all my TV via iTunes. And that's cuz I'm honest and I don't simply use torrent to get everything for free.

  9. "too smart to be fooled by advertising."

    And yet, which demographic is most highly valued by con artists?

  10. Of course with a lifespan that stretches to over 200 years, over 49 is not necessarily that old. This allows you to cameo plausibly in more movies than Kirk, (much to Shatner's chagrin), perhaps it also allows you to mindlessly follow the latest trends?

  11. Will it be funny? Depends.

  12. Nice. That's sure to see-all-us punsters groaning.

  13. Nice. That's sure to see-all-us punsters groaning.

  14. I think the 'set in their waysness' of older people is, if not a myth, a very small part of the reason that shows that do well in 18-49 and 18-34 are so important to advertisers. If you are an advertiser you can reach someone +50 in a bunch of different ways. There are a ton of shows on the main networks that attract these viewers and lots of networks (i.e. the Golf Channel just to name one example). Since there are lots of ways to reach these viewers, a network can't charge a premium to advertisers; there's no competition. Fine I can't advertise on Harry's Law? I'll do Good Wife, or NCIS, or Dancing with the Stars. There's a ton of choice. Since fewer 18-49 (and 18-34) year olds watch tv, the shows that attract them are in demand, and the networks that air them can charge a premium (Glee for example which has low total viewers and great 18-34 and 18-49) because they're scarce. Anyway, this is not some great insight from me, just a summary of what I learned reading over at tvbythenumbers.com.

    Mark

  15. I think the 'set in their waysness' of older people is, if not a myth, a very small part of the reason that shows that do well in 18-49 and 18-34 are so important to advertisers. If you are an advertiser you can reach someone +50 in a bunch of different ways. There are a ton of shows on the main networks that attract these viewers and lots of networks (i.e. the Golf Channel just to name one example). Since there are lots of ways to reach these viewers, a network can't charge a premium to advertisers; there's no competition. Fine I can't advertise on Harry's Law? I'll do Good Wife, or NCIS, or Dancing with the Stars. There's a ton of choice. Since fewer 18-49 (and 18-34) year olds watch tv, the shows that attract them are in demand, and the networks that air them can charge a premium (Glee for example which has low total viewers and great 18-34 and 18-49) because they're scarce. Anyway, this is not some great insight from me, just a summary of what I learned reading over at tvbythenumbers.com.

    Mark

    • Mark, that's my understanding too. While there is some merit to the "stuck in their ways" theory, there are also huge advantages to be had with the older demos (for example, many people in their 50s become empty-nesters, typically with more leisure time and income to spend on themselves). However, the big issue is that it is easier for advertisers to reach a 55 year-old than a 15 year old or a 25 year old. So the young ones command a premium.

      • I wonder — and I actually have tried to find this out, but haven't found it (or looked in the right place) — if the opposite would have been the case at some point in the past. Back when old people were less likely to have the newish technology of television, would they have been more valuable to advertisers because they were harder to reach?

        Of course, the stereotype of old people watching a lot of TV was common by 1970 or so. So if there was a period when older people didn't have TVs, it may not have lasted long.

        • Interesting question. I don't know if old(er) people were ever sought after by advertisers or networks in tv history. Please let me know if you find out!
          Mark

  16. Mark, that's my understanding too. While there is some merit to the "stuck in their ways" theory, there are also huge advantages to be had with the older demos (for example, many people in their 50s become empty-nesters, typically with more leisure time and income to spend on themselves). However, the big issue is that it is easier for advertisers to reach a 55 year-old than a 15 year old or a 25 year old. So the young ones command a premium.

  17. I wonder — and I actually have tried to find this out, but haven't found it (or looked in the right place) — if the opposite would have been the case at some point in the past. Back when old people were less likely to have the newish technology of television, would they have been more valuable to advertisers because they were harder to reach?

    Of course, the stereotype of old people watching a lot of TV was common by 1970 or so. So if there was a period when older people didn't have TVs, it may not have lasted long.

  18. Interesting question. I don't know if old(er) people were ever sought after by advertisers or networks in tv history. Please let me know if you find out!
    Mark

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