TV’s new endangered species: Teens
Broadcast networks see a 15 percent decline
October 25, 2005
The broadcast networks have a big problem this season, a dramatic falloff in viewing among teenagers.
Worse, the teenage audience is now vanishing at a far faster rate than the decline in young adults 18-34 that was of such concern to broadcasters and advertisers over the last couple of seasons.
The average teenage rating is down 15 percent from the same time last season, from an average 9.2 rating to a 7.8.
Media researchers say there are several reasons for the decline, but the most prominent is the lack of programs geared to young people.
Sitcoms like Friends that once generated big ratings are long gone, and other young-skewing programs are absent from the fall schedule, notably reality shows like Fox’s Simple Life, ABC’s The Bachelor and NBC’s Fear Factor.
Moreover, a few programs like the WB’s One Tree Hill didn’t premiere until a few weeks into the broadcast season.
If you don’t program toward teens, you won’t get them, says Steve Sternberg, executive vice president and director of audience analysis at Magna Global.
But Sternberg cites a few other contributing factors as well.
Part of this has to do with the WB having repeats at the beginning of the season. NBC’s audience is getting older. And Fox is getting a little older this year because they wanted to take advantage of [post-season] baseball as a promotional vehicle for shows like ˜Prison Break,’ ˜Bones’ and ˜House.’
Compounding these problems, other programs that once pulled sizable teen audiences have moved to intensely competitive timeslots. The most significant of these was the WB’s Smallville moving from Wednesdays to Thursdays at 8 p.m., where it’s pulling still respectable but deflated ratings against a slew of competitors, including CBS’s Survivor.
So far this season there is a three-way tie at No. 1 for teens, with ABC, Fox and UPN each averaging a 1.9. CBS and the WB each have a 1.6. NBC has a 1 rating.
UPN is the only network posting an increase, up 12 percent. ABC is down 5 percent and so is Fox, though it is up when not including baseball. CBS is down 11 percent, the WB is down 30 percent, and NBC is down 33 percent.
Network TV ratings are down in most demographics but the declines are most pronounced for teens. As a point of comparison, the 18-34 rating is only down 2 percent.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many teenagers are turning to cable TV, where programs such as MTV’s Laguna Beach and Real World rank among the 20 most-watched television programs in the demo.
The overall teen rating on ad-supported cable is up 9 percent over last season, according to an analysis of Nielsen Media Research data by Magna Global. And non-ad-supported cable is up 24 percent, from a small base, reflecting significant growth for networks like Disney Channel.
Overall, television viewing among teenagers is up 2 percent, with only network TV suffering a significant loss.
It’s the programming, explains Brad Adgate, senior vice president and corporate research director at Horizon Media. It’s not usage. Teenagers are watching TV. The cable networks have done a good job of targeting teens.
John Spiropoulos, vice president and broadcast research director at MediaVest, notes that the dearth of young-skewing network programs partly reflects a strategic move to focus on other demographics.
It’s another year where the networks en masse don’t go after this demographic with their programming, he says. The WB and UPN do, but almost secondarily, because both are really focused on 18-34 at this point.
But he says video games are also contributing to teenagers moving away from the broadcast networks.
On the male side of the demographic, the video game [usage] that Nielsen can measure is up 25 percent, roughly, which brings it to a 5 rating. A 5 rating on male teens makes it the No. 6 show in primetime. Only Fox’s Sunday comedies and [ABC’s] ˜Lost’ out-rate video games.
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