Young Men Abandon Big Four


As the legendary Mae West once said, "So many men, so little time." And perhaps that might be one of the myriad reasons suggesting why the broadcast TV networks and premium cable channels have found that the demographic of men 18-to-34 is pulling a disappearing act.

Frankly, I don't think you need a tome-sized research report from Nielsen Media Research to explain why young men are watching less broadcast and pay cable television. The answer might be simple: Clearly, they have more compelling things to do than watch programming that doesn't resonate with them.

The fact is that the new primetime broadcast-network lineup has not produced one runaway hit, or anything resembling appointment television — the kind of programming that used to have office workers congregated around the water cooler, engaged in lively conversation.

Frankly, I can't remember the last time I heard any of that going on in my own shop since the first episode of Survivor
aired. And those 18-to-34-year-old dudes loved every minute of it.

So where have all the young men gone during those all-important primetime viewing hours? If you live in an area that has a popular sports bar with television sets spewing out every game imaginable, do a drive-by. Look at the parking lot and who is coming out of those cars.

If you're really curious, go inside and do a nose count. And there they are — hundreds of young men tossing down the suds and watching TV sets, none of which, by the way, are measured by Nielsen.

Mae West might have been able to lure them out of their lairs, but the broadcast networks have not given them any tantalizing primetime offerings.

Fortunately, that's not the case for ad-supported cable networks, which have largely seen their viewing numbers grow — including those for men 18-to-34 — as broadcast TV continues its decline.

There are other factors at play. The broadcast community — unlike direct-broadcast satellite, and now cable — has never forged alliances with the consumer-electronics powerhouses.

The irony here is unescapable. Venture into a Best Buy or a Circuit City store and the customers are by and large those elusive 18-to-34-year males who are spending money on digital video recorders. And in the case of TiVo, they are buying those gizmos to personalize their viewing habits and filter out the pablum that the big four broadcasters are offering during evening hours.

I commend Nielsen for listening to its customers' concerns about the drop of young male TV viewers. By most counts, Nielsen has done its job, improving its research methodology — and, unfortunately, being the bearer of bad news.

The broadcast networks would love to shoot the messenger. However, Nielsen isn't the problem. It's more complex: What we still have in place is an arcane broadcast economic model that's shackling creativity. The end result is that shows are done at the lowest price, for the lowest common denominator.

It's time for broadcasters to do a little soul-searching here. Clearly, the 18-to-34 male demo has voted with its clicker.

If Mae West were still with us, I'm sure she would conclude, "It's the programming, stupid."