NBC’s audiences are more upscale

Aug 12, 2002  •  Post A Comment

NBC’s prime-time viewership has the highest average median household income in virtually every adult demographic and is the only network to have a higher median income than the total U.S. population in all categories.
That is the top-line conclusion of a recent prime-time median income report written by Steve Sternberg, Magna Global USA’s research guru. The report, which focuses on 18- to 49-year-olds, is of particular benefit to upscale advertisers who want network executives to show them the money audiences.
The report found that the median income of all adult 18 to 49 households in the TV universe is approximately $57,000. Programs with 18 to 49 audiences with a median income of $60,000 or more are generally considered “upscale.”
While NBC is the median income leader and should continue to be in the new season, the most-improved broadcast network is The WB, which has been increasing its upscale numbers at a much faster rate than the general population. In fact, The WB has not only increased its percentage of adults 18 to 49 in households making more than $75,000, it is the only network to “substantially increase” its 18 to 49 adults in households making between $50,000 and $75,000.
NBC’s “The West Wing” is the only network series with an 18 to 49 audience that has a median income above $75,000. NBC’s “Law & Order” is the only other series to crack the $70,000 ceiling.
“Dawson’s Creek,” a WB staple, ranks among the top shows in household median income among adults 50-plus, but that’s only because the relatively few older viewers who tune in happen to be upscale. The WB’s returning shows range from “Gilmore Girls,” whose 18 to 49 viewers have a median income of $58,000 (closely followed by “Dawson’s Creek” with $57,000 in the category), to “Off Centre,” with a $44,000 median income in the demo.
UPN’s returning shows range from “Enterprise,” whose 18 to 49 viewers have a median income of $57,000, to “One on One” and “The Parkers,” both with a $34,000 median income in the demo.
Fox’s returning shows range from “24,” whose 18 to 49 viewers have a median income of $63,000, to the venerable “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted,” both with a $42,000 in the demo.
When it comes upper-income adults 18 to 49, CBS, which ended the season in second place for the demographic overall, is up “sharply” over the past two seasons. Given the fact that it is returning only one series in the fall with an average adult 18 to 49 median income below $55,000 (“Touched by an Angel”), CBS is in a position to “challenge for the lead,” Mr. Sternberg said.
Until this past season, when it fell behind CBS, ABC was the No. 2 network in both the 18 to 49 demo and its upscale subset. Now, ABC goes into fall 2002 with just three regular returning series that this past season had median incomes among adults 18 to 49 higher than $60,000 (“The Bachelor,” “NYPD Blue” and “The Practice”). By comparison NBC has nine returning series in the category.
When it comes to advertiser-supported basic cable, the highest median-income 18- to 49-year-olds are generally found in prime time, watching cable news and business shows, sports programming on ESPN, household and garden tips on HGTV and Hollywood dish on E! Entertainment.
In general, the cable networks that are upscale, from CNBC and HGTV (whose 18- to 49-year-olds have a median income of $70,000) to Food ($60,000), are those that specialize. The only general-entertainment network in the top 10 in the category is A&E ($62,000), which has been in ratings trouble recently. One arguably beneficial side effect of A&E’s relative decline is that its upscale viewers have become a higher percentage of its diminished overall viewer base.
Somewhat surprisingly, Court TV is near the bottom of the list, as is Lifetime Television, basic cable’s household ratings leader. Of course, Lifetime sells women 18 to 49, rather than the adult 18 to 49 demo that Court sells.
Court, while “not upscale” in the demo, could have a “core audience that might be older,” Mr. Sternberg said. A Court TV senior ad sales executive said the network targets “middle America” rather than upscale audiences.