Nielen TV Ratings Age Demographics: J-J-J-Jive Talking

Categories: Nielsen Broadcast TV Show Ratings Adults 18-34,Nielsen Broadcast TV Show Ratings Adults 18-49,Nielsen Broadcast TV Show Ratings Adults 25-54

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April 3rd, 2008

Nobody believes what you say

It's just your jive talking that gets in the way.

-Bee Gees

I imagine this will be my last post on the subject of the Nielsen Age-Demographics, particularly the 18-49 demo for a while.  Besides just posting the weekly numbers, that is.  But I wanted to write a more or less definitive "and that's that" piece, so here it is.

Most of the time my writing is simply me thinking out loud on a blog.  I don't claim to be a good writer - my abuses of both the apostrophe and the parenthesis are epic, but hey, at least I don't go wild with the exclamation points. 

For most of the time since we launched this site in September, I have struggled with the age demographics because it wasn't ever absolutely clear to me what is what, and how all the broadcast networks and advertisers approached the age demographics.  But it's finally crystal clear to me exactly what goes on, at least right now.  It turns out there is more than one answer.  The age demographics do in fact matter to the advertisers, but former regular commenter Rena Moretti also had it right, they don't matter - at least not as much -- with the likes of CBS.

As an aside, Rena, if you wind up bored out of your mind and Google yourself and  see this, I hope someday you will return.  While I'm not sorry about holding the line about how comments work, I'm sorry where that line got drawn offended you so.  Your thinking added a lot to the discussions here, and I definitely miss it.

Advertisers do want youthful demographics.  There's no question about that.  If it wasn't an issue than Les Moonves certainly wouldn't publicly lament the travesty it is that there are cases where an 18 year old is considered more valuable than a 50 year old.  I know I'm often snarky in writing about Moonves, but no snark here.  I have a lot of respect for the Moonves, at least as far as CBS television goes, and I think they do a great job running the network.  Sure, I have some nits, but in the overall scheme, it really is just nitpicky.

I don't think there's anyone in particular to blame for advertisers wanting to reach younger demos.  If you're selling stuff aimed largely at 18-34 year old women, and Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives has most of those - it makes perfect sense to pay a premium to get in front of them.

Nonetheless, a network like CBS which relative to the other broadcast networks skews much older, can still make a pretty penny.  Moonves says that the average age of the 60 Minutes viewer is sixty-one years old, but also notes they still make a killing on the show.

How can it be so?  It's easy.  For one, there's a lot of stuff you can target at the 55+ crowd, pharmaceuticals topping the list, but there's other stuff as well.  Plus, like age matters to advertisers, wealth also matters. While Moonves argues that there's not any affluent 18-34 year olds this isn't quite true.  There's a difference between many and any, and I'd agree there's not nearly as many affluent 18-34 year olds as affluent baby boomers who are aged 55 and over.  The other networks focus on youth, CBS focuses on affluence and is able to make it work.

The data point that set the record straight for me was Moonves admitting publicly that only half of CBS' television ad sales were targeted at the 25-54 demo -- the demo CBS prefers to the 18-49 demo, for no other reason than they have more of them.  The other half is mostly targeted then at the 55+ crowd.  So CBS is making significant dollars selling their older viewers.

I think the advertising business is a bit crazy, especially when it comes to TV.  I did watch a ton of NCAA Basketball the last few weeks, and even though I mostly avoided the commercials, I feel like I saw:

-200 commercials for a Chevy Silverado (I'm not buying one)

-200 commercials of "Dude.  Dude.  Dude. Dude. Dude. Dude. Dude."

-200 commercials of "some stupid @^#%!*) commercial with a car alarm blaring loudly"

Dude!  It's a crazy business.  On the plus side this approach ensures I remember the advertisements, and at least in the case of two out of the three ads above, I even remember what the ads were selling. While I know the stupid car alarm one was advertising a car, I don't remember the manufacturer because whenever that commercial came on I either changed the channel or hit the mute button.  One of the most annoying commercials ever!

So advertisers are OK with running the same ads to the same people over and over and over again, and CBS can push the wealthy boomers not just on 60 Minutes, but on CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, Criminal Minds, Without a Trace, etc.  That the big advertisers are paying to reach the same people over and over and over again seems to be just the way big advertising works.  The net result seems to be that CBS can sell its 55+  don't just advertise on 60 Minutes, but everywhere they can reach CBS' wealthy older audience.  It seems to work that way on all the other networks too when it comes to their preferred demos.  CBS just has a preference for following the money, and the biggest pile of cash is with the 25-54 and 55+ groups. 

Longer-term I think this is problematic for CBS, but not for a while, and when they need to adjust, when advertisers won't pay to reach the 70+ demo, if CBS hasn't made up ground in other areas, it will do something else.  I don't blame CBS for not worrying about that now, because by then American Idol may still be the top show with only 10 million viewers.  There are definitely bigger longer-term concerns for broadcast television than the age demographics.

Moonves  recently  started to say that American Idol didn't have more wealthy old people, but then being a believer in the law of large numbers, caught himself and said something like "ah, Idol has more people in EVERY category) and he wasn't happy about it. 

For all its glory, and regardless of how much revenue they rake in, I don't think the Tiffany network will be satisfied until it has something that can compare to American Idol.  Indeed, advertising sales must be easier when you have "the most" by any and every metric.  

We will however continue to report the age demographic info for the 18-49 demo shows (and the 18-34 and 25-54 in the aggregate, in the overall network vs. network comparisons )because our goal is to report as much data as we can and that's the data Nielsen makes available to us.   We wish they made more data available, but understand why they do not, but perhaps someday soon we'll get our hands on good 55+ numbers for the broadcast networks.

 
  • Holly

    I think if you are Coke or Kia, it makes sense to focus on the 18-34 demo. On the other hand, if you’re Ketel 1 or Lexus, you are definitely looking for the older audience.

    Part of the overall focus makes sense, a new sports drink is more likely to get new buyers through TV advertising than a new high-end mineral water. Part of it doesn’t, people 18-34 tend to have less money than those 40+.

  • Holly

    I think if you are Coke or Kia, it makes sense to focus on the 18-34 demo. On the other hand, if you're Ketel 1 or Lexus, you are definitely looking for the older audience.

    Part of the overall focus makes sense, a new sports drink is more likely to get new buyers through TV advertising than a new high-end mineral water. Part of it doesn't, people 18-34 tend to have less money than those 40+.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    that’s why the 18-49 and 25-54 are bandied about as well, to encompass the 40+. But for primetime advertising it seems almost universal that advertisers don’t want to pay for the 55+ viewers. To CBS’ credit, despite this it is able to manage to sell 55+ and make money on it anyway. I don’t believe that is the case with other nets, but other nets don’t have as many 55+ viewers as CBS does either.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    that's why the 18-49 and 25-54 are bandied about as well, to encompass the 40+. But for primetime advertising it seems almost universal that advertisers don't want to pay for the 55+ viewers. To CBS' credit, despite this it is able to manage to sell 55+ and make money on it anyway. I don't believe that is the case with other nets, but other nets don't have as many 55+ viewers as CBS does either.

  • http://yahoo.com Jenny G.

    I feel old just watching Without a Trace ads, now I know why…hahaha

  • http://yahoo.com Jenny G.

    I feel old just watching Without a Trace ads, now I know why…hahaha

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