Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The aging of television

Advertisers have long coveted the 18-49 television viewing audience. But, recent data which was part of a story today in the Wall Street Journal, indicates that U.S. television viewership is actually aging as the overall population gets older.

In 1991-92, the number one rated show on television was Cheers. The median viewer age of those watching the antics of Norm, Cliff, Sam and Diane was 34.7.

In 2010-11, the number show is American Idol. And, the media viewer age of that program is 43.8. The median age was even older last year--57.4 for NCIS.

What's it all mean? It means as we boomers continue to age, we see actors like Tom Selleck (66) and Kathy Bates (62) in starring roles. And, there are plenty of other older stars in key roles, e.g., Ed O'Neill in Modern Family, Hugh Laurie in House, and Mark Harmon on NCIS. As younger viewers gravitate to the internet, gaming and video-on-demand, the average prime-time viewer's age has risen to 51 this year.

Viewers who are over 55 make up nearly 60% of the weekly audience for CBS' popular The Good Wife and ABC's Dancing With the Stars. The boomer audience is also a reason networks are introducing remakes like Hawaii Five-O and Charlie's Angels (in development.)

The trend is a fairly stunning reversal of what for so long was the conventional wisdom of targeting twenty-somethings who were early in their earning power, thus building relationships with advertised brands. Instead, advertisers are now reaching boomers (55-64) who, according to NBC Universal, spend $1.8 trillion annually on food, cars, personal care and other products.

This boomer doesn't necessarily think that network programmers have cracked the code on what this audience wants to watch, but it's certainly comforting to see advertising that's actually targeting us versus making us feel aged and out-of-the-loop.

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