Broadcast audience aging faster than population

No big surprise here but yet another wake up call for marketers still blind to the impact that an aging consumer has on the fundamentals of business.

The median age for viewers at American TV networks including CBS is now 51 according to this report from AP. Furthermore, the broadcasters’ audience has aged at twice the rate of the general population during the past two decades, according to a new report. It’s a quiet trend with a real impact on the way they do business.

The risk in having a rapidly aging audience is the networks becoming less relevant to advertisers, the backbone of their business. Increasingly, that’s a way of thinking that itself is getting old.

Economics play a part in the aging audience. A generation ago, the networks were more quick to cast off shows in favor of something newer and hipper, but are more reluctant now to get rid of something that’s showing success. Most new shows fail, so the financial risk is too great if it isn’t really necessary.

With the show aging and star Charlie Sheen in legal trouble, “Two and a Half Men” might have been a ripe candidate for cancellation in another era. Instead, CBS made Sheen the highest paid comedy actor on TV and kept the sitcom on the air. The show’s median age is 50.

“Dancing With the Stars,” with a median audience age of 60, is the most popular series on ABC’s schedule. Its youngest-skewing show, “Lost,” just went off the air.

Shows such as “24” and “House” broadened Fox’s audience beyond its youth-oriented roots. The median age of the “American Idol” audience has jumped from 36 to 44 over the past seven seasons, the report said. Young people who left when “Friends” went off the air are the most conspicuous of all the viewers who fled NBC.

A young audience has always been the holy grail for networks, but that’s changing, said Alan Wurtzel, research chief at NBC. Not only are more older viewers available, advertisers are starting to recognize that they spend money and are receptive to their messages.

“If you try to young down your median age, you’re going to be going against gravity,” he said.

There are also advertising sectors geared to plus-50s that either didn’t exist or had a much smaller profile two decades ago: prescription drugs, financial services and travel, for example.

As said, no big surprose but yet another wake-up call.

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