The broadcast networks shouldn't be blaming Nielsen Media Research for the decline in young-male viewership this season, according to a report from MTV Networks.
The audience dropoff is no fluke, but rather can be explained by a confluence of TV trends — a veritable perfect storm — that has resulted in young viewers abandoning the broadcast networks, said the most recent annual MTVN research study.
"Beyond 2003, we've found indications that the patterns we're seeing are not aberrations, but rather glimpses of the future that will likely continue and accelerate," Betsy Frank, MTVN's executive vice president of research and planning, said during a press conference here last week on "The Scoop: Television Trends of 2003."
Audiences, young and old alike, left broadcast this year because its scheduling is too rigid and doesn't meet their "on-demand" needs; the medium's programming was uninspired; and cable offered an attractive "diverse menu of year-round" originals, according to MTVN's research.
In effect, Frank's presentation addressed one of the hottest issues confronting the television industry this year: Why primetime viewership among 18-to-34-year-old men is down this season. The broadcasters have been blaming changes in Nielsen's sample and methodology for the decline.
Rather than point a finger at Nielsen, MTVN's research cited four reasons for what it calls the "radical changes" in habits that are driving viewers away from broadcast this season. It basically boils down to young people, so-called "media actives" born since the mid-1970s, watching TV in a dramatically new way, Frank said.
There are four "key filters" that affect viewing patterns, which define what young people want when they watch TV, according to MTVN's research. First, young viewers want "the next new thing," meaning year-round program debuts and shows that "refresh" often. For example, MTV: Music Television's The Real World gets a new cast and locale each season.
"You follow the action for one 'season' and then the whole thing 'reboots' with a whole new group," Frank said.
The second "filter" was that young viewers want TV on their terms, Frank said. That means a decline in traditional appointment viewing and an increasing interest and usage of video games, DVDs and the Internet, according to Frank.
Thirdly, the boundaries of "real life versus reel life" are blurring, and it goes beyond reality TV, Frank said. For example, "knowledge" has become the star in shows such as Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
And finally, young viewers are searching for diversity on TV, meaning variety in programming as well as seeing diverse casts on shows, Frank said. These young viewers are comfortable joking about, and "almost celebrating," stereotypes, she added.