TV Viewers Are Old

This isn’t surprising, but it turns out that the majority of broadcast TV viewers are “old” by the standards of the upcoming “Survivor: Old vs. Young”:

Ten years ago, the audiences of the five broadcast networks were very different from each other, the study says. The median age — the age at which half the audience is older and half younger — for the now defunct WB was under 30. For CBS, the age in 2000 was in the low 50s. Fox, in those days, was in the mid-30s with shows like “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Party of Five.” Today, the median age of viewers of all networks except the CW is over 45.

This trend is accelerated by the fact that there haven’t been many new hits recently, and the viewing audience gets older as a show does.

However, according to the study, the oldest-skewing drama on broadcast TV is not a veteran hit but a new show, The Good Wife, whose median age is 58. People often assume that an older audience is interchangeable with an un-hip or un-challenging show, which is unfair (it’s not true of movies, where art-house fare often attracts an older audience). The Good Wife isn’t an un-challenging show, but it happens to possess a lot of traits that make it hard to attract young viewers: an “old” (by Survivor standards, not real standards) cast, a minimum of action, a courtroom setting, ripped-from-the-headlines plots.

The youngest-skewing shows, as you might expect, tend to be animated shows like Family Guy, which attract a lot of people who are theoretically too young to watch — prime-time cartoons always have a substantial number of children watching — and where, since the characters never age, they don’t have the “aging hit” factor quite as much.

The other thing the study found is that alternative methods of viewing, like the internet and DVR, are popular among the young, but somewhat less popular among the very young. The demographic sweet spot for this type of viewing is the 25-34 age group: people who are young enough to embrace the technology, but old enough to have a limited amount of free time. People who have a lot of time on their hands are more likely to watch “live,” while someone who has a job and has just had a kid might want to record a show and watch it when some extra time presents itself.

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