25-54 OR FIGHT

July 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

This just in: “NBC executives suggest that the impact of the end of the ‘Today’ streak has been overstated, primarily because it continues to show strength in the category that is most important in generating television news revenue: viewers aged 25 to 54. ‘Where it counts we have not had slippage,’ said Steve Capus, the president of NBC News. ‘That’s what’s real. The rest is spin and noise.’”

It seems after an 852-week first-place run – the most in the TV industry – NBC’s morning “Today” show slipped to second place behind ABC’s “Good Morning America.” This slippage is bad news for the Peacock network, because the show has been a cash cow, bringing in an estimated $484 million last year with minimal expenses (unless you count Ann Curry’s contract buy-out).

But Capus’s defense is an insult to millions of Americans, and may include you. He proudly points to the morning show’s strength in the 25 to 54 year old category, “That’s what’s real.” As for those under 25 or over 54 years of age, sitting in their dens deciding what to watch on TV: they are “spin and noise,” which sounds like a law firm or an English pub. They don’t count for squat in Nielsen ratings, sponsors’ marketing meetings and program planning. Just put them on an ice floe and push them out to sea.

Companies do extensive research to determine who is and who is not buying their product, then spend their advertising bucks accordingly. This is why Saturday morning TV shows are mostly cartoons, sponsored by firms that make stuff to rot out kids’ teeth, turn 5 year olds into diabetics (“Kids, remember what Mary Poppins sang, just a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.”) And cause 8-year-old girls to inquire about deodorants.

I, personally, don’t fit into the 25-to-54 age category, but shall on my next birthday. (Incidentally, what was Y2K?) But you older readers, don’t you buy things? Like food and cars and Depends? You do have an income and you do spend it on something. The median income of married couples between the ages of 65 and 69 is $61,000, and a quarter of these households bring in more than $100,000 annually. Much of this money – tens of thousands of dollars per walker – goes to the Over the Hill Gang through Social Security and Medicare — funds, which, are taken from the 25-to-54 generation, thus widening the gap.

As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote recently, “The wealth gap between households headed by someone over 65 and those headed by someone under 35 is wider than at any point since the Federal Reserve Board began keeping consistent data in 1989. The gap in homeownership is the largest since Census Bureau data began in 1982. The income gap is also at a recorded high; median inflation-adjusted income for households headed by people between 25 and 34 has dropped 11 percent in the last decade while remaining essentially unchanged for the 55-to-64 age group.” In addition, the current economic slump has hurt the young more than any other group.

Thus you old codgers may have more to spend than the average 25 year old who is unemployed, moved back in with his parents and plans to tell them about his pregnant girl friend and soon as he kicks his meth habit. This aging adolescent is the networks’ target? He and his kind are the people Madison Avenue and NBC are trying to reach with ads for Charles Schwab, Carnival Cruise Line and Johnny Walker Red? That is “what’s real?” It’s clear that the 25-to-54 age category may not be “the most important in generating television news revenue.” Of course, maybe they just spend more because they can’t control their budgets, credit cards and unemployment checks.

We can tell a lot about a program’s viewers or listeners by their commercials. Companies know who is watching and listening and who is not. Budweiser, for example, is constantly advertising on televised sports events. Its research no doubt shows that most of the company’s potential customer are adult males, and that is also who watches most NASCAR races in which fuel efficient machines (one mile, one gallon) race around an oval track for 4 hours while a quarter of a million sweating fans are chugging Bud.

It’s why Rolex and Mercedes advertise during TV coverage of Wimbledon. Note, too, which companies advertise on the evening network news: Big Pharma: commercials for aching backs, bad eyesight, drooping chins and infected wounds from Bull Run. These companies know who has time at 5:30 (or 6:30 on the coasts) to sit on the sofa and watch TV: the AARP Army. Everyone else is at work.

In this regard, which firms do heavy sponsoring on Sean Hannity’s radio show? Companies which specialize in dead beats, tax cheats and those with questionable reputations. “Do you owe more than $20,000 to the IRS?” “Only one complaint from a former customer can ruin your name.” Turning it around, those who run businesses catering to tax dodgers, credit card abusers and shady businessmen, think: “How can I best reach these slime balls? Who has nothing better to do in the middle of the day? They listen to Sean Hannity, of course.” Rush Limbaugh has many of these same sponsors, which tells us a lot.

We who do not fit into “what’s real” should take heart. These executives are the same type who brought us the New Coke, Edsel and the Longhorn Network. Like Dick Rowe, in charge of evaluating new talent for Decca Records, wrote in 1962: “Not to mince words, Mr. Epstein, but we don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out; four-piece groups with guitars particularly are finished.” So much for the Beatles.

NBC’s prime-time performance is as weak as any network has been in broadcasting history, although the Olympics coverage will help temporarily. And we must note that Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, is 49 years old. Keep that ice floe handy.


Ashby is growing older at ashby2@comcast.net

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