For the record, I enjoy both shows — I enjoy Burn Notice more, but I don’t really care “who wins” between the two because as long as both of them keep coming, I win.  But I’ve seen some comments in posts about how even though The Closer had more viewers, Burn Notice probably crushed it with adults 18-49.

Crushed would be a stretch, but it’s true that Burn Notice did have the better performance in the advertising centric adults 18-49 demographic.

The Closer averaged 7.455 million viewers to Burn Notice’s 6.634 million.  Third place Royal Pains with 6.381 million actually outperformed both of them in terms of adults 18-49.  Royal Pains had a 2.0/6 adults 18-49 rating share, Burn Notice a 1.9/6 and The Closer a 1.7/5 (tying a season high).  Each 18-49 ratings point = roughly 1.32 million viewers.

Having watched all three shows quite a bit at this point,  I’m not at all surprised Pains had the highest numbers with the younger set.

I know a lot of people wind up getting rankled about the perception of ageism — and even Craig Ferguson is jumping in on it, though really that was just a not-so-thinly-veiled way of saying, “Screw you NBC, even if Conan is winning the 18-49 demo,  Letterman is still king!”  Turns out CBS is a little put out that NBC put out a press release declaring Conan the king of late-night after only a few weeks.

Ferguson’s rant was still funny, and part of the reason I found it so funny is because there was so much truth in it.  But not so much truth really, when it comes to ratings.

Ageism exists in advertising and there’s no question about it.  They do want to hit you while you’re young and impressionable and it makes a lot of sense. I probably remember every television jingle thrown my way up to the time I was 15, including Jhoon Rhee self defense!  Advertising works!

But, I truly don’t believe that ageism is the primary reason the television industry obsesses over age groups like 18-34, 18-49  where primetime is concerned.   Sure, advertisers do want to reach younger viewers, but the primary reason that there is so much focus as an industry on the younger demos is availability.  18-34 watches less TV than 35-49, and 35-49 watches less TV than 50+   50+, relatively speaking, watches a boatload of TV.

Anytime we write about something winning the demo and overall viewers not really mattering too much other than being good PR, inevitably people chime in with cries of ageism, and some 53 year old will say “hey, it’s people my age with the disposable income, not some punk 23 year old!”

But again, while all that is true, the reason there is more obsession with the the 23 year old is because the 23 year old, on average, watches much less television.  The 23 year old is much, much harder to reach, and because of the 23 year old is relatively much more  scarce the eyeballs are more coveted.

What I’m saying is that if all age and gender groups watched  the same amount of television, you probably wouldn’t see very much discussion of the demographics.  The reason you see so much focus on it is because they don’t.  That’s not to say that advertisers wouldn’t gravitate to youth regardless in many cases, but it is to say that if their eyeballs were as easy to get in front of as the 50+ crowd, there wouldn’t be as much coverage and obsession on the demos as an industry.  The obsession is due to relative scarcity, not relative age.

50+ just watches more TV, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just that because relatively they are so much easier to reach, they aren’t coveted to the same degree as younger groups.

Burn Notice, The Closer or Royal Pains, more than half of the viewers were 50+.  For all three shows.  Trust me, all three shows are glad the 50+ crowd is watching too.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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