Winning back wandering eyes

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Two days after Saddam Hussein was captured, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel remarked, "You hear what he had in the hut? $750,000 cash, some 7UP, Mars bars, hot dogs and a canned ham. Tell you what-bad guy, but sounds like he would have made a pretty decent college roommate. Except for the head lice."

That kind of commentary is tempting bait for the elusive, and very attractive, 18-to-34-year-old male demographic. The young male audience is tough to reach-particularly on TV, as indicated by the late 2003 uproar over Nielsen's "lost" men-but a number of shows and networks have found the secret sauce.

Among those that have succeeded: ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," Fox's "The Simple Life," the Adult Swim programming block on Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Spike TV, TNT and TBS.

be relevant, original

The key for TV programmers to reaching the lost boys is to be relevant and original. Here's what's working in the struggle to snare these guys, and why.

"Jimmy Kimmel Live," which debuted a year ago, rose from a 0.7 rating/4 share to a 0.8/5 from May to November in the coveted demo. That's because the 35-year-old host talks to young men about things they're interested in in a way that communicates with them, says Duncan Gray, VP-alternative series and specials at Walt Disney Co.'s ABC.

On cable, Cartoon Network stretched its Adult Swim programming block, geared to young adults, from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. (ET) twice a week to five nights a week last year, a move that's paid off in a 161% increase in the time period for men 18-34 and a 31% increase in that demo for the total day.

"Particularly in this demo, [viewers] look for new and original ideas," says Mike Lazzo, senior VP-programming at Cartoon Network, owned by Time Warner. Adult Swim shows like "Harvey Birdman," where cartoon characters sue one another, fit that bill, he adds.

The extended Adult Swim has generated at least 35 new advertisers to the network, including quick-service restaurants, tire companies and PG-13 movies, says Kim McQuilken, exec VP-sales at Cartoon Network.

Viacom's Comedy Central has also scored with young males. Last year was its best ever in luring men 18-34 with full-day delivery up 21% and prime time up 15%. Leading the way are the network's original shows like stalwart "South Park," as well as "Reno 911," "Chappelle's Show" and "The Man Show."

"You speak to a young guy's sensibility-honest, irreverent, non-PC," says Barry Blyn, VP-programming research at Comedy Central.

Animation also seems to be popular with young men. When Viacom rechristened TNN last summer as Spike TV, targeting young men, two new highlights of its lineup were the animated "Stripperella" and "Gary the Rat." "Stripperella" over the course of the summer boosted its time slot by 140% in the 18-34 guy demo, vs. a year earlier, earning a 0.84 Nielsen rating; "Gary" improved its time slot by 134%, with a 0.75 rating. "Guys grew up on animation," notes Kevin Kay, exec VP-programming and production at Spike TV.

Young men want action more than story, and fun more than heart, says Steve Koonin, exec VP-chief operating officer for Time Warner's TNT and TBS Superstation. TNT offers reruns of "NYPD Blue," "Law & Order" and "ER" during the afternoons as an alternative to traditional daytime programming, and generated a 16% increase in men 18-34 during that time period in the fourth quarter last year.

BOUNCE FOR NBA

National Basketball Association games on TNT have also been a magnet for young men, up 47% through the first 18 games. "The NBA speaks to what they want," Mr. Koonin says. "They want action, drama."

Ad-supported cable is growing in this demo because the programming is more diverse, says Mary-Ellen Vincent, senior VP-director of insight and value creation at Publicis Groupe's MediaVest, New York.

"CSI" on Viacom's CBS is one of the few broadcast shows that's got the goods for guys. Executive Producer Carol Mendelsohn says that's because "CSI" has a theatrical quality and a distinct visual style.

"Nothing on `CSI' totally conforms to the formula for network [TV]," she says.

And with young guys, a little forensic gore probably doesn't hurt either.

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