TV’s Silver Age

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by: Dick Stroud

The New York Times has a long thoughtful article about the vagueries of the advertising industry and its attitude to older people. It is well worth reading.  These are three extracts that particularly caught my eye.

Ultimately, the broadcast and cable networks are merely delivering what advertisers value. ABC’s “Lost” doesn’t attract many more viewers than CBS’s “Criminal Minds” but a 30-second ad on “Lost” fetches $328,000, while a spot on “Criminal Minds” costs $143,000. The difference: “Lost” finishes regularly in the Top 10 among 18-to-49-year-olds. “Criminal Minds” comes nowhere close. That is over a 100% premium for a younger-poorer audience.

Last year, adults age 45 to 64 (the Nielsen category closest to the baby-boom generation) watched 37 hours and 38 minutes of television each week. Adults between 18 and 34 tuned in for barely more than 27 hours. So it’s not hard to attract an older audience: boomers will flock to shows with a younger sensibility. The reverse, however, does not hold. “If you do something a little bit safer, a little more center cut, it’s pretty hard to convince a younger audience to come. These figures for the UK are about the same –BUT- the high spending socio-economic group ABs watch 15 hours less than this figure. The big time TV consumers are the poor DE group.

CBS stumbled upon a new strategy, after the surprise success of “Survivor” and “CSI” programmes. This approach favored multigenerational casting and, in dramas, surrounding a middle-aged authority figure (often grizzled) with a group of young, attractive acolytes. It appealed to younger viewers without driving away older ones. CBS’s prime-time lineup has nine shows built on this boomer-and-the-cool-kids blueprint. CBS now not only wins the network ratings race most weeks in overall numbers; it regularly places shows like “CSI” and “Without a Trace” in the Top 20 among viewers ages 18 to 49. This is called age-neutral programming. It is not rocket science!


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