Is it possible that network execs getting up every morning and bowing before the Nielsen gods that a fetus is watching their latest show will have to once and for all acknowledge that the older demographics truly matter to advertisers? For years now, we’ve heard about that coveted 18-34 demographic that pretty much causes network execs to do giddy body movements in their high in the sky private office suites if they find out anybody in that age category are watching one of their shows. What they failed to realize with those Nielsen results is that the particular 18-year-old watching the show likely had a parent watching right along with them who didn’t bother to report to Nielsen. The particular parent also had more cash sitting in their wallet than their children–hence more apt to go out and buy all those cool products being hawked during the show’s commercials.
Well, those parents probably handed over some cash to their kids to buy the same thing, but that doesn’t always count in the eyes of advertisers.
In the real world, older women (and men) have always been watching a lot of the shows TV execs think aren’t being watched by this demographic. Once you move one year beyond the age of 34, the thought was by networks and advertisers that you somehow ceased to exist (or maybe moved on to “Logan’s Run” Carousel) and no longer bought Coke or downloaded music from iTunes. If you think age discrimination is bad enough in the employment world, TV was already inventing the concept many decades ago. In fact, this concept was at its worst during the famous 1971 Rural Purge (see Timothy Sexton’s excellent analysis on this notorious time in TV history) when programming executive Fred Silverman not only took away all rural programming, but programming that most people well into adulthood were watching regularly and keeping in the Top 25.
Yes, TV has been blind to the realities of who watches what for decades. And you can’t expect something to change so fast either after years of having it rule how TV execs and advertisers work together to make their millions. Now the reports are coming out that a lot of the 18-34 demographic have abandoned “American Idol” lately and are being replaced by older people well into their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Nielsen reported that women in their 40’s and 50’s found an appeal in “Idol” winner David Cook, which suddenly brought on an “Idol” winner just about everybody agreed with…except maybe teenyboppers.
“Idol” certainly keeps a lot of secrets about how its run, but now Nielsen just revealed something undeniable. A lot of older people are watching shows that are supposed to be attracting younger audiences, yet necessarily aren’t. It even fooled me when I was so sure David Archuleta would win because the teens hijack the phone lines on “Idol” as evidenced (temporarily) how long Mr. Dreadlock Jason Castro hung around. Well, things have just changed dramatically. The question is, though, will the networks finally cater to older viewers now that they know they exist?
Marketing to the older viewer…
With the networks hemorrhaging not only money but viewers on a weekly basis, all TV networks should acknowledge any viewer they can get at this point. It seems to me that it’s equal when it comes to younger demographics and older viewers–especially because a lot of mothers and fathers today grew up in an age of MTV or a slightly hipper pop culture than perhaps anyone who grew up at any point prior to the 1960’s when things were a whole other universe on TV. The older women who voted for David Cook on “American Idol” grew up in the rock era and got what he was doing. It wouldn’t shock me if even older women who didn’t grow up in the rock era also liked Cook and even voted for the guy…undoubtedly not to carpal levels as others do.
The disregard that older men and women don’t buy products that anybody under 34 buys is a huge misconception. As mentioned earlier, the parents have the money and buy a lot of hip and cool things. Kids are usually broke, unless they’re millionaire entrepreneurs that are becoming increasingly rare now in an age of lesser opportunities to implement the American Dream. You’d think the TV executives would have figured that out a long time ago and just say it out loud and slowly: All…ages…are…watching…us.
Now I want all of those TV execs to admit that they’re catering to older viewers and say it out loud to the press rather than having writers about the media have to state it yet again. The notion that a fetus is more hip than someone over 34 may have just taken one step of removal away from being believed as fact in every TV network executive brain.
Of course, we could end up getting an “Idol” Purge in the next few years where “Idol” and all shows that have a 50-year-old watching it are given pink slips all in one broad swoop. Perhaps Fred Silverman’s grandson will get a programming executive position at one of the major networks in the coming decade and make history repeat itself…