Women and TV: A Love Story

Nov 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Advertisers and women 18 to 49 are a long-lasting match made in TV heaven.
As soon as Nielsen began producing sophisticated demographic information more than 40 years ago, mass-product advertisers began clamoring for the “lady of the house,” or the “LOH.” That always-shopping young demographic group endures today, despite the raising of politically correct eyebrows and the development of a gender-neutral “principal shopper” demo in the ’90s.
What advertisers want, networks cater to in their development and programming. So in less time than it took to walk across the living room and change channels in the old days, Westerns and heroic shoot-’em-up cowboys were marked for the pasture. Comedies in which women were smart and men were bumbling proliferated in prime time. TV liberated women characters and valued women shoppers.
“By the ’60s TV was definitely going after the female audience, and the networks have continued to do that ever since,” said Tim Brooks, executive VP for research for Lifetime Entertainment Services. Men and kids were largely “marginalized” and “ghettoized,” he said.
As underserved audiences, men and children were ripe for the picking by cable programmers, who showed the world that narrowcasting could be profitable. Now advertisers and network programmers cherry-pick for “the available audience in any given daypart.” But still, said David Poltrack, CBS Executive VP, Research and Planning, adult women remain “the primary target of most prime-time advertisers” on the broadcast networks.
Despite the increasing use of psychographics to define target audiences and increases in everything from the number of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets (40 percent as of summer 2002) to the number of same-sex households, the “lady of the house” remains the belle of the prime-time ball.
“You can’t be successful in prime time if you are not successful at attracting women,” said Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s president of research and media development. “They tend to be disproportionate viewers on a regular basis.”
Men, on the other hand, tend to be more fickle in their programming interests outside of sports.
Data from Nielsen Media Research shows that adult women outnumber adult men by some 8.3 million in the U.S. TV universe.
Adult women tend to watch prime-time TV in greater numbers (47.2 million women to 40.2 million men in August and September). They tend to watch more TV on a daily basis (four hours and 55 minutes for women vs. four hours and 16 minutes for men in May 2003).
The profile of adult women becomes much more dramatic in prime time on the broadcast networks. In the first five weeks of the 2003-04 season, the female composition for the vast majority of prime-time network series’ audiences was 60 percent or higher. Only nine of the series attracted more men than women, and that short list was topped by ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and UPN’s “WWE Smackdown!” both at 67 percent men 18-plus.
In cable, it might not be surprising to learn that HGTV, which in October produced its biggest prime-time ratings ever (an average 0.9, representing 714,000 homes), ended the month with a prime-time audience that was 75 percent adult women. But even Sci Fi Channel has been rewarded for broadening its focus to appeal to women, especially with its Friday night lineup, which has helped make Sci Fi one of cable’s top 10 networks.