Print, radio, television, the Internet. When it comes to Baby Boomers' media consumption, it seems just about anything goes for this generation of 78 million Americans.
But even in a market so large and fragmented that it defies the attempts of anyone to make generalizations, a few broad statements about Boomer media patterns may be made. For one thing, in an era of increased niche targeting, television may still be an effective mass medium for reaching Boomers. For another, as this generation gets older, it appears willing to embrace new forms of media. â€œEverything is being accommodated into a new mix,â€? says Marty Horn, senior vice president of strategic planning and research at ad agency DDB in Chicago. â€œBaby Boomer media habits, formed early on, haven't changed dramatically in terms of television, radio and print. Baby Boomers have stuck with what they've known over the years, but they're also embracing the new. It's a matter of â€˜andâ€™ rather than a matter of â€˜or.â€™â€?
Though Boomers may have the most education of any cohort in American history, and though they may consume print media at a vociferous rate, what truly differentiates them from the previous generation is television.
â€œThis is the first generation to grow up with TV,â€? says Sarah Zapolsky, senior research advisor at the AARP. â€œWhen times were tough â€” when Kennedy was assassinated â€” this generation turned on the television. The Baby Boom accounts for a huge portion of TV viewers. Even if you only get 10 percent of Boomers, you're still capturing about 7.8 million people. It surprises me that the entertainment industry doesn't cater to them more.â€?
According to Nielsen Media Research, households headed by people between the ages of 35 and 54 comprise 40 percent of all households using television (HUTs) during prime time. While much on TV is targeted to the youth market, adults between the ages of 35 and 64 spend an average of 248 minutes a day watching TV, 22 minutes more a day, on average, than adults 18 to 34, reports a Television Bureau of Advertising/The Media Center survey that was conducted by Bruskin/Audits & Surveys Worldwide in 2000. In general, television viewership increases with age, so Baby Boomers currently are somewhat in the middle of the spectrum, and their viewing time continues to increase.
The type of programming Boomers tend to watch centers around life stage, according to Diane Denesowicz, senior partner and group director of consumer insights at Mindshare, the joint media operations unit for J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather that's based in New York City. Denesowicz breaks the cohort down into Leading Edge (45- to-54 year-olds) and Later Boomers (35- to-44-year-olds). For the fourth quarter 2001, three favorite television shows of older Boomers were CSI, The West Wing and ER. For younger Boomers, ER, Friends and Survivor held the top three spots. Older Boomers tend to be more interested in news programs and shows on the Lifetime cable network. They are less interested in reality shows, which draw a high concentration of younger Boomers, Denesowicz says.
It's not all about life stage, however. Denesowicz notes that science fiction programming, in particular, is popular among Boomers, a fact she attributes to Boomers' heavy watching of the genre during their formative years. Science fiction shows about space travel, such as the Star Trek â€œprequelâ€? Enterprise, no longer hold great appeal to 18- to 34-year-olds. Gen Xers and Gen Ys have less of a connection to the miracles of space exploration, whereas Boomers remember and are nostalgic for such historic moments as man's first walk on the moon.
Denesowicz also points out that Boomers' high education level distinguishes them from earlier generations of television viewers. â€œWe've always associated 55-plus TV programming, like Touched by an Angel, with being downscale and not very sophisticated,â€? she says. â€œBut the type of programming for Boomers in the future will be more like The West Wing, more intelligent and sophisticated â€” particularly entertainment for women, because that's where the change in education is the greatest.â€? And researchers at the VALS Program at Menlo Park, Calif.-based SRI Consulting predict that Boomers will increasingly look for â€œin-depthâ€? programming, such as multidimensional social documentaries, challenging scientific specials and comedies with sophisticated historical and cultural references.
Boomers also search for substantive radio programming. According to the fall 2001 RADAR (Radio's All Dimension Audience Research) study produced by Arbitron, Baby Boomers listen to the radio an average of 21 hours per week, about two hours more per week than most other adults. Program preferences differ slightly between older and younger Boomers. According to Arbitron, news/talk is No. 1 for older Boomers and rock is No. 5, while rock is No. 2 with younger Boomers and adult contemporary is No. 1. And just as Baby Boomer viewing supported the rise of cable news networks, their avid ears have led to the enormous popularity of talk radio.
Although radio may seem old-school to a lot of people, but when it comes to media habits, Boomers don't toss out the old media when new forms come in. During a time in which rapid technological change has led to a proliferation of media options, Baby Boomers seem to be saying, â€œYes, more!â€? They don't multitask as much as younger generations do, preferring to engage in one medium at a time, but they haven't abandoned the media habits they developed growing up even as they have embraced the new. Boomers have proven to be open and easily adaptable to new technologies and media, be it cable TV, digital TV or the Internet.
â€œMy parents have the same media habits they have always had,â€? says Mark Nelson, data mining strategist at Fallon, a Minneapolis-based ad agency. â€œBut Boomers have adopted and embraced entertainment and information resources on their own terms. The older you are, the more tech-adverse you are. But Baby Boomers are much more open to new media than previous generations.â€?
Baby Boomers are online almost as much as the so-called Net Generation and have greater access to the Internet than the overall adult population. According to the 2001 Nielsen Home Technology Report, 57 percent of Boomers have access to the Internet at work, compared with 45 percent of all adults, and 69 percent have access at home, versus 64 percent of adults overall. Boomer Internet habits more closely mirror those of younger generations than those of older ones. The DDB Life Style Study found that 74 percent of adults younger than Boomers believe that â€œthe Internet is the best place to get information about products and services,â€? compared with 69 percent of Boomers but just 55 percent of older Americans.
Baby Boomers also go online more frequently than do most Americans. Seventeen percent of adults ages 35 to 54 log on more than once a day, compared with 12 percent of non-Boomer adults, reports Mediamark Research, Inc. Twenty-one percent of Boomers go online once a day, versus 16 percent of non-Boomer adults. And Boomers spend a greater amount of time online as well. According to data from comScore Media Metrix, Baby Boomers (adults ages 35-54) spend more time online than any other demographic group. Not only are more of them online, but they go on the Internet for more time â€” an average of 22.2 days per month versus an average of 15.2 days per month for 18- to-24-year-olds.
â€œBoth younger and older generations have more time, while Baby Boomers are swamped. They're at a very busy point in their lives â€” between careers, children, parents â€” which means they have a limited amount of time to pursue leisure and learning,â€? says Ken Dychtwald, president of San Francisco-based Boomer consulting firm Age Wave. â€œThe biggest change up ahead in terms of Boomer media consumption is that as they age, they will have radically more free time to devote to media.â€?
Boomers make time for 25+ hours of TV watching a week, though retired Boomers log in 12 more hours in front of the boob tube than do Boomers with kids.
|TOTAL HALF HOURS OF TV WATCHED PER WEEK||TOTAL PRIME-TIME HALF HOURS WATCHED PER WEEK||TOTAL DAYTIME HALF HOURS WATCHED ON WEEKDAYS, PER WEEK||TOTAL CABLE OR PAY TV HALF HOURS WATCHED PER WEEK|
|All adults except Boomers||60.7||23.3||5.4||35.0|
|Boomers (ages 35-54)||52.4||22.2||5.8||33.1|
|Married Boomers, children under 18||44.0||20.0||5.0||30.0|
|Source: Mediamark Research, Inc., spring 2002|
ALL IN A DAY'S MEDIA
Nine in 10 Baby Boomers watched TV â€œyesterday.â€?
ADULTS REACHED YESTERDAY BY MAJOR MEDIA:
|Source: Television Bureau of Advertising, Inc./The Media Center, 2000|
The average Baby Boomer spends more time online than any other age group.
|TOTAL USERS (IN MILLIONS)||AVERAGE USAGE DAYS PER VISITOR, PER MONTH||AVERAGE NO. OF MINUTES PER VISITOR, PER MONTH|
|All Internet Users||144,754||18.9||1,498|
|Source: comScore Media Metrix, December 2002|