In restaurant lingo, adults 18 to 49 would be the main course, as far as advertisers are concerned, while audiences aged 25 to 54 would serve as a side dish.
When advertisers and cable networks settle into anecdotal commentary about the importance of 18-to-49-year-old viewers, the dialogue often sways like this: The more people from that demographic group a network can attract with programming, the more ad dollars will veer into its coffers.
While the 25-to-54 crowd comes off this rhetorical wave as second best, many cable services are programming to — and devoting other resources against — this audience.
Lifetime Television, Turner Network Television, USA Network, Discovery Channel and TBS Superstation — among the top-rated cable services from quarter to quarter — draw a significant number of households in the 25-to-54 demo. During the second quarter, Nielsen Media Research statistics show that TNT (1.108 million), USA (1.02 million) and Lifetime (1.01 million) all averaged more than 1 million of these viewers in primetime.
And individual shows from these networks and others pull in at least 3 million 25-to-54 homes.
Another study of the median and average age of both broadcast and cable primetime viewers, conducted by media-buying service MAGNA, also gave proof of the medium's pull with the 25-to-54 set. Of 40 cable networks surveyed, 33 said their average viewers are aged 40 or above.
Thirteen nets — including Lifetime Television, TV Land, Court TV, Home & Garden Television and all three national cable news services — said their median age ranged from 50 to 58.
With such research in hand, some basic-cable networks are becoming more open about their affinity with the 25-to-54 demographic audience, and the value that target group holds for their success. At the very least, some place the 25-to-54 group on an equal footing with 18-to-49 viewers in deciding which original shows get produced. In other cases, the older adults are unabashedly the crux of the channel's programming focus.
For instance, the latest quarterly ratings press release from Discovery Networks U.S. spotlighted three notable programs — Discovery Channel's Monster Garage; The Learning Channel's Trading Spaces
and Animal Planet's The Pet Psychic. It made note of their ratings performance within the 25-to-54 demo in the same sentence as their household rating achievements.
Discovery noted that each episode of Pet Psychic
averaged 222,000 women aged 25 to 54 — 73 percent higher than Animal Planet's nightly primetime-schedule average of 128,000 in the demo.
VIEWERS IN COMMON
Perhaps one reason why programmers like Discovery aren't shy about touting their 25-to-54 draw — as well as their 18-to-49 impressions — is that the two demos have a lot in common: Namely, viewers aged 25 to 49.
"If you talk fruit analogies, it's comparing navel oranges vs. oranges with seeds," said TV Land executive vice president and general manager Larry Jones.
In Jones' thought track, it's not so bad to target, program or promote a cable network to 25-to-54 households, as well as those that are home to adults 18 to 49. There's a multitude of people in that demo to, to use Jones' term, super-serve with a variety of channels — and hundreds of advertisers who want to reach them, whether they're aiming at the younger group or not.
"A lot of times, we get hung up on older vs. younger," he said "The money's out there for both demographics. Should there be channels out there for 25 to 54? Yes.
"And there should be networks that target 12 to 24 and 18 to 49 and just kids. You should have plenty of options, and each option should be true to the audience you're going after."
With a multitude of 25-to-54 options out there, advertisers don't put as high a premium on that demo group as they do on the highly coveted 18-to-49 viewers, E! Networks CEO Mindy Herman observed.
Style, E! Entertainment Television's lifestyle spin-off channel, targets women 18 to 49, but doesn't take the over-49 crowd lightly. "If you can bring the late twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, you can bring in older viewers, and they're welcome with us," she said.
Adults aged 25 to 54 are the mainstream portion of USA Network's audience — a demo to embrace and to build from.
The channel's latest original-series forays — the series The Dead Zone
and Monk— were promoted with a tagline aimed right at that segment: "Big. Bold. Blockbuster," said executive vice president and general manager Michele Ganeless.
"People have seen mainstream become a dirty word in the past, maybe more negative than that. Mainstream comes off as been there, done that," she said. "We don't think so now. You don't have to be conventional or boring to be mainstream and appeal to the masses.
"We're going for appointment TV to a big, broad audience and showing mainstream is a good thing. And by going after adults 25 to 54, we're capturing a great deal of 18 to 49s at the same time."
Targeting 25 to 54 as much — or as well — as 18 to 49 is a good thing, and delivering to both is better, according to The History Channel executive vice president and general manager Abbe Raven.
According to some surveys, the median age of a total-day History viewer is 49, while the MAGNA report notes that the typical History primetime viewer is aged 51. But Raven's channel has increased its pull with men 18 to 49, especially those with an annual income of $75,000 or higher. History has increased its ratings 7 percent among men 25 to 54 over the last three months, and its viewership among men 18 to 49 grew in close fashion, she said.
First and foremost, "we're about delivering men," Raven explained. "We're out to be a niche network for them.
"As a programmer, we'll do some programs clearly toward the younger end of the market, and others that meet the spread. We're not only about reaching fathers, we're about reaching fathers and sons."
History Channel International — the digital offshoot concentrating on world history and leadership — transcends the two demographics as well, but focuses more on women.
MADISON AVENUE MINDSET
Although GoodLife Television Network recently revamped its primetime schedule to zero in on an audience of baby boomers (which it defines as aged 35 to 55), chief operating officer Lawrence Meli said his network is no different from 25-to-54 targeted services when it comes to convincing advertisers that the channel's audience is just as worthy as adults 18 to 49.
Meli attributes Madison Avenue's mentality to the longstanding perception that people on the upper end of both scales are locked into their buying habits, and therefore unattractive to clients.
Advertising agencies have yet to catch on to the notion that the demo's viewers have a more open mind about purchasing decisions than their parents or grandparents did at that age.
"The profile of today's 50-year-old is completely different to the state of 50-year-olds two decades ago," he said. As a member of the 25-to-54 community, Meli noted, "I haven't bought the same car twice in my life, or go on the same vacation every year, or use the same investment strategy.
"But the agencies continue to look at the younger demo as the more valuable one, in part because it's what they've been weaned on," Meli continued. "Yet it takes three times as many dollars, from our research, for them to get to the younger demo as the older demo. You can make the strong argument that the older demo is a more efficient buy."
A growing number of advertisers do regard adults 25 to 54 as just as efficient a buy as their 18-to-49 counterparts, Herman noted, which gives cable nets some impetus to program to both sets.
Of course, with so many cable options, advertisers and agencies can view a steeled consumer mindset as a manifestation of brand locking.
"If they're a good customer at 18, they can be a good, valuable customer for the next 40 to 50 years," she said. "You want people to be loyal to your brand as long as possible."
For cable networks clearly working the 25-to-54 crowd — and looking to adults 18 to 49 to broaden their overall delivery — the question is, do certain formats stand a better chance of running on certain channels? Conversely, are there certain formats that don't play to both audiences?
The answers fly all over the map, at least among the network executives contacted by Multichannel News
for this article. Some channels say no genre is off-limits for programming fodder, while others acknowledged that they favor particular formats over others on their schedules.
Shows will take on a certain flavor in terms of look or focus based on the audience they're going after.
"You make creative choices in the narration, writing style, graphics, editing pace or music, and you'll make them based on audience," Herman said. "Flip the dial from MTV [Music Television] to [American Movie Classics], and you'll see audience connection impact the creative choices they make."
Aiming at both demographics, History Channel mixes flash and personal relationships in presentation with solid subject matter. My Father's Gun, last month's acclaimed special on the launch and growth of the New York Police Department, framed its treatment through the microcosm of a family of cops.
"We have to appeal to a multitasking generation, so you make sure the programs are fast-paced and tell their stories in a quick, compelling way," said Raven. "But while you appeal to a younger audience, you cannot sacrifice the integrity of your programming.
"Our brand has to stand for a certain level of quality. So whatever we do, whether lighthearted, fun or serious, comes over in a manner that's true to the subject. You must tell a great story, as you connect with both audiences emotionally and personally."
Mail Call, an upcoming History series featuring drill sergeant-turned-actor R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) exemplifies the model. Ermey himself is in the upper end of the 25-to-54 bracket, but the program features him answering viewer questions about history and technology in rapid-fire fashion.
"He's also a cult figure among the young, and willing to step into the situation to illuminate things. If a question concerns a suit of armor, he'll pick the suit up and wear it," Raven explained.
USA's smash series The Dead Zone
could have run from the start on sister Sci Fi Channel, but its roots in the popular Stephen King novel-turned-movie enhanced the program's chances, Ganeless said.
"The essence of the show is not science fiction or horror, but good storytelling, a strong ensemble cast and the production values, which made it bigger than any one genre," she said.
And one ultimately big enough to share. After an exclusive launch on USA, Sci Fi opened its own Dead Zone
window on July 12, as prelude to its first-run Friday night pairing of Farscape
and Stargate SG-1.
Under previous USA regimes, Monk— which also premiered July 12 to advance positive notices — would not have made the network's cut, Ganeless acknowledged.
"It's a little quirkier and smarter than the normal action or crime drama carried before," she said. "But it's acceptable now, because there's an adult tone our audience will go for. And since I've been here [10 months], the rule is to investigate all genres for original possibilities."
At TV Land, classic TV rules, and a 25-to-54 appeal remains the main priority. Thus, original and special program projects have a classic root that caters to the demo.
On Nov. 2, the network will launch TV Land Legends: The 60 Minutes Interviews, 13 half-hour 60 Minutes
segment compilations featuring Jackie Gleason and other TV influentials. Ed Bradley will host the programs, and each show will include footage not used in the original 60 Minutes
piece. The appeal for the retro network's preferred demo: Television greats showcased in a classic TV newsmagazine, in the context of something new and exclusive to the channel.
The project epitomizes how to "give people whole new reasons to watch their favorite shows, or superserve these viewers," Jones said.
Another TV Land approach on its way up the development chain is The Alan Brady Show, an animated series about the fictional variety hour for which The Dick Van Dyke Show's main characters worked from 1961 through 1966.
creator Carl Reiner played Brady back then, and he's writing this toon prospect, set in 2002, in which Brady's show is the longest-running hour of its kind on Earth. The show's pilot is currently being prepared.
Bringing a beloved show back in a roundabout way is a 25-to-54 natural, Jones insisted.
"That can draw the original show's fans, and a few flips in the action, such as taking place in the star's office, instead of writer Rob Petrie (Van Dyke's) office, could expand the crowd," he said.
And in the highly competitive cable-network environment, expanding crowds, whether of adults 25 to 54, 18 to 49, 35 to 55 — or any other demographic — remains job one.
For its part, AMC is looking to modernize its programming and brand, and attract some younger viewers in the process. MAGNA pegs the median age of the AMC viewer at 55.
"Programmatically, I go forward not as much a demographic development, but a psychographic development - movie-going fans," said senior vice president, programming and production Rob Sorcher. "We want to be about the community of American movie fans and represent the American movie experience that connects us all."
In addition to bolstering the network's lineup with more contemporary films and referencing their classic progenitors, Sorcher said he is pursuing new formats to enhance the net's value. "The only stopping point is entering into a format where I can't compete, such as entering an arena like producing an original movie every week. It's just too early now to jump into made-for movies, but I don't rule that out," he said. "It would be a great direction for us. But if we jump in, we want to do it in a smart way."
As part of its evolution, AMC will dip even more heavily into the horror and science fiction genres. "What you will see going forward is the creation of a consistent late-night monster/thriller block on the network. You'll see that put somewhere weekly and packaged in a way to put it in context."
Sorcher emphasized that this was not a prelude to a spinoff network. "It's true that [sci-fi or horror] programming can pull a younger male audience, but that's not the intention," he said. "We want to draw the broadest audience possible."