In Search of the Coveted Teen

Mar 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The teen demographic is a nebulous and coveted one.
Broadcast and cable networks face the same challenge as parents in reaching this dynamic group, defined by Nielsen Media Research as between the ages of 12 and 17.
Viewing habits change drastically during that age range as teens inch closer to the all-important 18 to 49 demo.
“Sometime in that time frame they move from kids stuff to adults,” said Deana Myers, senior analyst with Kagan World Media.
Teens are harder to reach today since they don’t watch TV in the same way they did as recently as five to 10 years ago. They do watch the same amount of TV; this year, teens 12 to 17 watched three hours and 29 minutes each day compared with three hours and 27 minutes in 1993-virtually the same. What’s different now is how they watch the tube; they surf the Internet, send instant messages and talk on their cellphones while watching their favorite programs.
Teens are early adopters, tech hounds and trend seekers. The teen audience has glommed onto reality programming; eight of the top 20 shows season-to-date for teens on broadcast and cable combined are reality shows.
American Idol, Survivor, Joe Millionaire, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and Fear Factor generated large teen audiences. Five years ago, the demo was viewing Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, The Simpsons, Boy Meets World, Brother’s Keeper and WWF Sports Entertainment, among other shows. The cable landscape has been steadier since most of the top-rated shows on cable for the 12 to 17 demo during the past few years have been Disney Channel movies.
The WB specifically targets the 12 to 34 demo in its prime-time programming.
“There’s a lot of options for teens and they are very aware of all their options,” said Suzanne Kolb, executive VP of marketing for The WB and Kids’ WB. “They understand they are a force in terms of having TV delivered to them.” That’s because marketers know the older teens will become members of the coveted 18 to 49 demo within a few years.
The bonus, then, for advertisers when they place a spot in an American Idol is they are reaching viewers who may purchase their products now or in the near future, said Maureen Smith, former president of both Fox Family Channel and Fox Kids and now a partner with independent production company TLC Entertainment, which produces kids shows. “Teens are really looking to be connected and connect with others,” she said.
Rainbow Media repositioned its music channel MuchMusic USA in 2001 in recognition of the changing viewing habits of teenagers. The channel and the way it’s programmed, with a strong online, interactive component for each show, are emblematic of teenagers today, said Marc Juris, president of the channel. “I think the single biggest change [in teen viewing habits] has been the effect of the Internet and interactive gaming,” he said.
Because teens have more choices today, their viewing is more fragmented, said Terry Kalgian, VP of programming for the Cartoon Network.
Except for megahits such as Joe Millionaire and Survivor, their tastes will be spread across a variety of shows and networks, she said.
Disney Channel counts eight of the 10 top-rated telecasts for teens season to date with its movies. But the network isn’t specifically targeting teens.
It aims instead for the 9 to 14 tween demo. The protagonists for those shows, though, are generally 14, 15 or 16, making them attractive to older teens as well, said Rich Ross, president of entertainment for Disney Channel.
“On broadcast they aren’t watching scripted TV because there is nothing there for them,” Mr. Ross said. “When teens come to us, they come for our movies and scripted series. So we don’t get lured to believe we are a teen destination. They are fickle. They come and go.”