Les Moonves is a master when it comes to obfuscation. A part of me loves him for being so damn good at it, too. He says junk like (paraphrase) “advertisers want the young, rich viewer, but they don’t exist!” He’s right too, about both – advertisers want them, and there are simply not enough of them to make selling to them a worthwhile endeavor.
But the reasons advertisers are ageist has some science to it. There are particularly reasons why relative youth is targeted. Advertisers wanting younger audiences is not based solely on the notion that young people are more free with spending. It’s about who is more likely to be influenced by advertising. And my thinking is there is at least some science to it or when it came to selling Budweiser, Burger King and Chevy Silverados, the parent companies simply wouldn’t care. But they do care, and I don’t believe Les Moonves, try though he will is going to be able to convince them not to care.
On a season-to-date-basis through March 23, 2008, the problems looming for CBS seem quite obvious to me. While CSI is CBS highest rated show (#8 S-T-D on a household ratings basis), it’s not the best of the 18-49 crop for CBS. That honor falls to Survivor: China which was 14th overall on a HH Ratings basis, and 13th overall in the 18-49. CSI isn’t far behind at #8 overall and #15 in the demo.
If you throw in Two and a Half Men (#18 overall, #17 in the demo) that’s pretty much it for CBS in terms of any semblance of overall viewing mirroring 18-49 viewing – at least with shows that draw a lot of viewers (and factoring out NFL).
FOX with American Idol Tuesdays and Wednesdays has both the number one and number two shows by any metric. But Idol is a special case. ABC’s best effort is overall is Dancing With the Stars which on a HH ratings basis occupies the 2-5 spots, and 10th, 8th, and 12th respectively on an 18-49 basis. Desperate Housewives, the #6 show overall is #3 in the 18-49 demo. FOX’s House, the 9th show overall, is #5 in the demo.
The problem CBS has is that beyond CSI and Survivor and Two and a Half Men it gets dicey in the demos in a hurry. CBS’ has the #12 and #13 shows overall based on household ratings with NCIS and 60 Minutes. But when it comes to 18-49 ranking, these shows are both tied for 64th. More and more, sixty-four seems to be about the median age for CBS viewers, and I anxiously await further obfuscation from Les Moonves to cloudy that up!
By the way, yes, I do know that if Les Moonves was going to call me he’d say, “Robert, stop acting like a dope in public, man – we’re NOT fixated on 18-49, but rather 25-54!” And I’d tell Mr. Moonves, I know, but a.) all I have access to on the s-t-d basis is the 18-49 data, and b.)but…
The “but” would simply be that the gap between 60 Minutes and NCIS overall ratings and demo ratings might not be quite as pronounced with the 25-54 demographic as it is with the 18-49, it would still be quite pronounced. More pronounced than anyone at CBS probably wants to think about it.
My guess is despite public commentary from Moonves and others at CBS, they are definitely worried about it, and definitely thinking about it. I can’t imagine any scenario where that’s not the case.
Just to give a little more information. Some CBS shows work in the other direction. And Heroes on NBC is 35th overall, but tenth in the demo. LOST is 18th overall and 7th in the 18-49 demographic.
One example of a CBS show that works the other way is The Big Bang Theory. It's 69th overall, but 50th in the demo. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Bionic Woman on NBC was 56th overall and 34th in the demo and it got cancelled (though in fairness, more of its success in the demo was earlier in the run, but still, 34th overall in the demo).
Some wacky Friday night spreads. The Price is Right Primetime: 50th overall, 101st in the 18-49 demo. Women's Murder Club: 52 overall, 139th in the demo. Ouch.