Reality shows have high-income appeal

Aug 6, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Even though industry watchers may think reality TV programming is playing to lower-income viewers, NBC still thinks there is a large “upscale” audience tuning in to the much derided genre.
NBC this summer has found a strong mass audience and young demos for its three new reality series-“Weakest Link,” “Spy TV” and “Fear Factor.” Yet the question is at what cost.
Does NBC risk losing its advertiser-friendly image as a purveyor of upscale and smart scripted shows by diluting it with the insertion of “extreme” reality series?
Several different economic-based demo profiles obtained through Nielsen Media Research’s National Audience Demographic reports found that NBC’s “Weakest Link” and “Spy TV” do “index” reasonably well in the above-average category but not quite as high as some of NBC’s scripted series, such as “The West Wing,” “Law & Order” and “Friends.”
“All we’re trying to point out is that `Weakest Link,’ `Spy TV’ and `Fear Factor’ are really delivering respectable index numbers in relation to our scripted shows,” said Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s president of research and media development. “They are not in the class of `West Wing’ or `Friends,’ but this perception of reality strictly being downscale is an unfair tarring of the genre. Not all reality shows are alike, and the ones we have put on have clearly moved up the economic scale.”
Nielsen’s summer-to-date NAD report for May 28 to July 15 has “Spy TV” and “Weakest Link” indexing at 108 and 102 scores, respectively, among adult viewers 18 to 49 with $75,000-plus incomes.
Index scores greater than 100 mean that shows are getting bigger chunks of the upper-income brackets than the general measure of the overall adults 18 to 49 demographic rating. To calculate the index, a show’s rating in adults 18 to 49 among the $75,000-plus group is divided by its overall adults 18 to 49 rating average.
The 8:30 p.m. (ET) Thursday edition of “Spy TV” has been averaging a 5.0 rating in the general adults 18 to 49 measure but is indexing at 108 (or 8 percent higher) in relation to its 5.4 rating among $75,000-plus viewers in the demo.
Some industry executives, such as ABC Vice President of Audience Analysis Larry Hyams, are quick to point out that “Spy TV’s” higher score in the upscale index may be due more to its “scheduling environment” than the show itself. “Spy TV” benefits from its 8 p.m. Thursday lead-in “Friends,” which has indexed at a 116 score this summer.
“Sure, NBC has been able to use these shows strategically, but how many shows have we used outside of `Friends’ that have cratered and failed to hold ratings-that’s not been the case with `Spy TV,”’ Mr. Wurtzel said. “Aside from how well `Spy TV’ has indexed, its actual adults 18 to 49 ratings have either held or improved on `Friends,’ and that’s been a significantly positive story for us. [“Spy TV”] is not going to be there in fall, but it is good to know we have strategic chess pieces to play when something may fail in the schedule.”
During a presentation of NBC’s fall 2001 schedule at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., last month, NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa said in-house research showed that the 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday night runs of “Fear Factor” and “Weakest Link” indexed “well” against CBS’s upscale comedy lineup during June.
In the last full monthly report in NAD (June 2001), “Fear Factor’s” 92 score in the upscale index handily beat CBS’s “King of Queens” (74 index) and “Yes, Dear” (64 index) as both aired in repeats.
“Weakest Link’s” 106 index among $75,000-plus adults 18 to 49 also held a 23 percent advantage over CBS’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” (86 index) and “Becker” (86 index) in the upscale measure.
Steve Sternberg, senior vice president of research for TN Media, a New York media buying agency, said he wonders whether the picture will change when original scripted programs return in the fall.
“Historically, NBC continues to index well in the upscale demos during the summer, but we are also talking about a summer here where `Spy TV’ and `Fear Factor’ have not really been facing other original series-including `Survivor,”’ Mr. Sternberg said.
The competition could be tougher starting this fall, with the six broadcast networks planting 14 alternative/reality series on the prime-time schedules to start the 2001-02 season.
David Marans, research director for MindShare, a buying arm of WPP Group, said competition series, such as CBS’s “Survivor: The Australian Outback” and ABC’s “The Mole,” typically index better in the upscale demos than other reality-based series. During the 2000-01 season, “Survivor” indexed at a 115 score among adults 18 to 49 in the $75,000-plus category, while “The Mole” held up at a 98 score.
That could bode well for the litany of new competition series next season, including NBC’s “Lost,” CBS’s “Amazing Race,” ABC’s “The Mole II” and “The Runner,” and The WB’s “Lost in the USA.”
“`The Mole’ was pretty upscale for us, but we’re looking at its second edition [this fall] and `The Runner’ [starting in Jan. 2002] to help broaden out our network in the younger demos, along with our other new scripted shows,” ABC’s Mr. Hyams said.
In particular, ad buyers viewed ABC’s development of several younger-skewing dramas-such as “Alias” and “Thieves”-combined with the reduction of the aging “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” from four to two airings a week as positive moves to bring down the network’s median age and improve its upscale profile.
Mr. Sternberg also said the competition reality series have been similarly indexing well in the adults 25 to 54 and adults 35 to 54 demos in households with incomes greater than $75,000. In fact, Mr. Sternberg said both older demos hold a larger concentration of higher wage earners than those at the younger end of the 18 to 34 demo. “While it’s true that many advertisers are focused on adults 18 to 49, there are a good number that also focused on buying upscale eyeballs in adults 25 to 54 demos,” Mr. Sternberg said.
Looking at the upscale adults 25 to 54 demo, Mr. Sternberg finds that some younger-skewing reality shows such as Fox’s “Temptation Island” were a bit lower in median income appeal but still held strong. For instance, “Survivor II” and “The Mole” were atop the reality series last season with median income averages of $60,000 to $65,000 among adult viewers 25 to 54, followed by ABC’s “Who Wants to Be Millionaire” (for its 8 p.m. Sunday airing) and “Temptation Island” at $55,000 to $60,000 median incomes.
Needless to say, with NBC’s “West Wing” and “Law & Order” in the $70,000-plus median income range, NBC led all of the networks with a median income of $63,300 among adults 25 to 54. ABC was second at a $58,500 median income range, followed by CBS’s $57,700, Fox’s $54,000, The WB’s $46,200 and UPN’s $43,400 averages among adults 25 to 54.
Looking at the adults 18 to 49 indexes among $75,000-plus households, NBC indexed at a 114 score overall in prime time during the 2000-01 season, holding a commanding 23 percent “upscale” advantage over ABC’s second-place 93 index in prime time. CBS placed third with a 92 index among the upscale 18 to 49 demo. Fox indexed somewhat lower in the $75,000 portion of the demo with a 79 score.