Tuning In: Why TV May Start Chasing Denture Wearers

Brian Steinberg on the TV Season and Changes to the Venerable Boob Tube

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PROGRAM GUIDE

Getting old: Advertisers have long yearned to reach young viewers whose alliances with specific brands of deodorant, automobile or laundry detergent have yet to be established. So why are we hearing a steady drumbeat of media and advertising outlets warning marketers not to forget their elders?

News: It's not just for makers of hip replacements and denture cream any more.
News: It's not just for makers of hip replacements and denture cream any more. Credit: NBC
NBC Universal, following a similar outcry from Nielsen earlier this year, is calling attention to the ramifications of the aging baby boomer generation. These retirees aren't docile consumers who sit around gumming the same type of oatmeal day in and day out. Instead, said NBCU's Alan Wurtzel, the company's president-research and media development, this large chunk of aging consumers represents a "demographic tsunami" -- one that could cause "huge economic risk going forward" for media outlets and marketers if they fail to recognize their power, he said on Tuesday.

We've heard this pitch before: Older consumers matter, too, darn it! Mr. Wurtzel's research shows that these "alpha boomers" will have significantly more wealth than younger generations whose economic status -- and ability to find gainful employment out of school -- has been hurt by the recession. His research also takes issue with the idea that older consumers aren't as fickle as your teenage daughter and her pals. Indeed, NBCU says, they'll change favorite products as much as that crowd (which, of course, means you really need to throw more advertising at them). Mr. Wurtzel also suggested that older consumers are living and working longer, giving them even more heft in a marketing world just emerging into a new landscape shattered by the recent economic crisis.

So that's all great, but how will it change the way advertisers buy TV? Television advertising has for decades been purchased based on its ability to reach legions of 18- to 49-year-olds, with a hint of 25-to-54s in there for good measure. Is this about to shift?

Not yet -- or, perhaps, ever. But we bet NBC Universal would love it if more marketers who typically "think young" (makers of hot gadgets, for instance) would throw some more ad dollars at "NBC Nightly News" or CNBC. News: It's not just for makers of hip replacements and denture cream any more.

NBCU's research also reminds us that broadcast-TV audiences are growing older each year, as those crazy kids with the portable doo-dads and funky video-game-sharing devices continue to find more palatable ways of getting their entertainment and information than sitting slack-jawed in front of that living-room screen whenever CBS Corp., Walt Disney, NBC Universal, News Corp. and Time Warner say they should. If older audiences have more value in advertisers' eyes, so too will the gradually aging viewers who still watch these companies' programs in the same way previous generations did back in the days when "Fantasy Island" and the original "Hawaii Five-0" ruled the airwaves.

NBC's alarm about the viability of older generations also strikes us as a little off-kilter, given that the company's broadcast channel has long been recognized for reaching the young, urbane, high-income viewers who once flocked to "Seinfeld," "The West Wing" or, today, to "30 Rock" and "The Office." CBS, once the network of "Murder, She Wrote," has had to fight more strongly against the belief it has an older skew (seeing an ad for Abbott Laboratories' "Ensure" in the first spot during a recent ad break in Friday's "Blue Bloods" doesn't shatter that notion).

"This isn't just about NBC Universal," said Jeff Zucker, NBCU's president and chief executive, in remarks delivered Tuesday. Boomers' purchasing power as they move into their 60s and 70s will have an effect "across the entire media industry." When Fox -- home to movie-studio advertising and young guys who watch football and "Family Guy" -- starts saying similar stuff, we'll know something's really catching fire.

CHANNEL SURFING

Pay for play: The Los Angeles Times delves behind the scenes of how one production company gets marketers to pay for their products to show up in cable programs that purport to have a little good ol' journalistic integrity. We've all heard about "pay-for-play" type schemes before, in which the backer of a product, service or person appears on a TV program without disclosing the paid endorsement to the viewer, and columnist James Rainey's piece is worth the read, if only to see how the money changes hands and how viewers can potentially be duped.

Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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