New York -- This year, there has been a confluence of TV trends -- a veritable "Perfect Storm" -- that explains why younger viewers are abandoning the broadcast networks, according to an annual research study by MTV Networks.
And the phenomenon is not a fluke that will end after this year, the programmer said.
"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," MTVN executive vice president of research and planning Betsy Frank said during a press conference here Wednesday.
Audiences young and old left broadcast this year because its scheduling is too rigid and doesn’t meet their "on-demand" needs; the "Big Four’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 in television today: Why primetime viewership of men 18-34 is down this year.
The broadcasters have been blaming Nielsen Media Research -- changes in its sample and methodology -- for the drop-off.
Rather than pointing a finger at Nielsen, MTVN’s research cited four reasons for the radical changes in viewing 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 are affecting viewing patterns, defining 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 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" is that young viewers want TV on their terms, Frank said, and that means a decline in traditional appointment viewing. And with the younger demos playing video games, watching DVDs and surfing the Internet, their "primetime" is later than the usual 8 p.m.-11 p.m. slot, 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 The Learning Channel’s Trading Spaces.
• 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.