Aging Prime-Time TV Demographic Forcing Advertisers to Adapt

Molly Soat
Marketing News Weekly
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Key Takeaways
  • ​The average viewer who watches prime-time TV on NBC, ABC and CBS is 57, while the average age of the total population is 38, according to media research firm Media Dynamics Inc.

  • Adults between the ages of 50 and 64 spend 191 hours per month watching traditional (rather than time-shifted) TV, according to Nielsen, and those over 65 watch more than 223 hours per month. Teens, by contrast, spend 84 hours per month watching TV.​ 

  • TV programming has adjusted to reflect changes in the prime-time viewing audience, and advertisers must do the same​.

Prime-time TV is an aging medium. According to Nutley, N.J.-based media research firm Media Dynamics Inc., the average viewer who watches prime-time TV on NBC, ABC and CBS is 57, while the average age of the total population is 38.

Adults between the ages of 50 and 64 spend 191 hours per month watching traditional (rather than time-shifted) TV, according to Nielsen, and those over 65 watch more than 223 hours per month. Teens, by contrast, spend 84 hours per month watching TV.

Advertisers shouldn’t abandon broadcast TV efforts altogether in favor of reaching the ever-desirable millennial audience on digital and cable video channels, experts say. “A lot of advertisers who are spending billions of dollars are still buying the broadcast networks’ prime time,” says Ed Papazian, CEO of Media Dynamics. “It’s not a question of media reasons. They’re not buying them for reach or demographics. They’re buying them for image, to be in the big shows. … The difference now is that, over the years, the networks have lost their high ratings and they’ve also aged.”

Most marketers are focused on the millennial audience, and those who get tunnel vision will run the risk of alienating an older demographic that still has significant purchasing power, says Ken Kraemer, COO and head of product at New York-based creative marketing agency Deep Focus, where he has worked with clients including Pepsi and Nestle. “TV is not going anywhere, and it’s still a great reach mechanism with really broad demographics tuning in at different times for different things,” he says. “I can’t name a client that isn’t concerned about how to appeal and how to recapture the imagination of millennials, and even Gen Z beyond that, but meanwhile, there’s this whole audience of 50-plus who’s waiting to be marketed to on their own terms and in their own language.

TV programming has adjusted to reflect changes in the prime-time viewing audience, and advertisers must do the same, Kraemer says. “The days of the 30-minute family sitcom that we knew in the ’80s and ’90s are over, in a lot of ways. You’re seeing a lot more of these crime dramas and that sort of thing, which seems to be more appealing to this audience.” While ads’ creative should skew older to suit the viewing audience’s preferences, advertisers should continue to integrate digital elements, as they would when targeting millennials, Kraemer says.  “We advise brands to think about this generation as connected digitally. We see a big use of social, especially the Pinterests of the world, in this age set, and they’re much more willing to [listen to] advertising and then advocate or spread that message.”​

This article was originally published in the May 5, 2015, issue of Marketing News Weekly.​



Author Bio:

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Molly Soat
Molly Soat is a staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Weekly. E-mail her at msoat@ama.org.
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