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Online Exclusive: Media News


45% of NBC's Prime-Time Audience is 50 and Older

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- More than 45% of NBC’s prime-time audience consists of adults aged 50 and over, according to a report out today from Magna Global USA. That’s bad news for the network that traditionally has made its bread and butter delivering advertiser sought-after 18- to 49-year-olds.

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NBC’s prime-time problems have resulted in the median age of its audience rising from almost 46 years old during the 2003-04 season to 48 this season. Median age is the point at which half the audience is younger and the other half older and is a relatively recent measure of a network’s health as far as advertisers are concerned.

CBS still the oldest
NBC, part of General Electric Co., is still younger than the oldest network, Viacom's CBS, at 51.8, though CBS has reduced its median age from almost 53 from the previous year.

In terms of household viewership ratings for 18- to 49-year-olds, News Corp.'s Fox came in first among the top four broadcast networks last season, followed by CBS, ABC and NBC.

Having a smaller 18-to-49 demographic to sell has already hurt NBC, which dropped from first to fourth in that demographic. The network saw estimated ad commitments from marketers looking to find those 18- to 49-year-olds drop from $2.8 billion in 2003-04 to $1.9 billion for the 2005-06 season.

According to the Magna report, NBC’s strength has been that it delivers a range of audiences from young to old in stable numbers. But this past season changed all the givens. The Thursday night schedule, which includes Joey, Will and Grace and ER, aged this year along with the already older-skewing Law and Order franchise. The canceled Father of the Pride was the NBC show with the youngest median age at 37.6 while Dateline Friday recorded the oldest median age at 56.4.

Daytime and late night
One positive for NBC is its daytime schedule of soaps, such as Passions and Days of Our Lives. Both series attracted a younger median age than shows on ABC or CBS. In late night, Magna’s figures appeared to defy the conventional wisdom that youngsters are the ones staying up late to watch post-11 p.m. shows. NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno recorded a median age of 50, up from 48 in the previous season. For the first time the show grew older than its longtime competitor, CBS's The Late Show with David Letterman, which also edged upward slightly to 49.5.

Marketers might also be surprised to learn that in the morning daypart, CBS’s The Early Show skews youngest in terms of median age, while ABC’s Good Morning America tilts oldest.

The other broadcast newtorks are CBS sibling UPN and Time Warner's WB, but these networks do not command the same upfront commitments from marketers, even though their audiences skew the youngest of all networks, including Fox.

A general trend
Steve Sternberg, executive vice president of audience analysis at Magna Global, said: “Median age is not a replacement for other types of measures, but it enables you -- with a single number -- to get general trends.” Mr. Sternberg suggested that CBS had been particularly successful at bringing down its median age by axing shows that skewed older than 50.

Network median age 2004-05 (October to May):

CBS: 51.8
NBC: 48
ABC: 45.3
Fox: 38
WB: 35
UPN: 32.9

The median age of the U.S. population in TV households is 37.9.

Magna Global is part of Interpublic Group of Cos.

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