Younger Males Drift Back to TV

Nov 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Young men are returning to TV-but they aren’t coming back in droves, and not to broadcast television.
In the week starting Oct. 27 the number of men 18 to 24 watching TV matched the season high, according to recent data from Nielsen Media Research. Prime-time PUT, or people using television, levels were up 3.1 percent among men 18 to 24; and up 1.7 percent for male teens 12 to 17 vs. the week before. While being up for the week, the 18 to 24 male demo was still down 10.9 percent compared with the same week last year, and the male teen demo was down 1.1 percent.
The data should be somewhat comforting to advertisers and programmers, who-to this point in the season-have watched the number of young male viewers bleed anywhere from 8 percent to 12 percent compared with the previous year.
The slight gains benefited ad-supported cable networks the most. The sector posted a collective Nielsen Media Research rating of 13.8 among men 18 to 34, up from 13.1 for the same week a year ago. At the same time, the six broadcast networks dropped to a collective 10.9 rating in that demo from a 13.3 the year before.
“It looks like now that baseball is over, cable is picking up some young men,” said Steve Sternberg, senior VP of audience analysis for Magna Global USA, New York.
Sort of.
Since the start of the season, young male viewers on cable networks were virtually at the same levels as a year ago, said Ira Sussman, VP of research for the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau.
That may seem like good news, especially when viewed against broadcast networks’ declines over the same period, media audience executives said. But other media watchers said cable is also slowing down with young male viewers.
For the first six weeks of last year’s broadcast season, 2002-03, cable was up 15 percent in the men 18 to 34 demographic and up 2 percent in men 18 to 24 vs. the year before.
“And cable ratings were rising for many years before this,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research for NBC.
Mr. Wurtzel said he doesn’t believe the current drop in young male viewers is due to a lack of programming that appeals to young men, as media agency executives such as Mr. Sternberg have theorized. Rather, he said it appears to be a Nielsen methodological problem. He also said he still hasn’t received satisfying answers from Nielsen about it.
“That’s not true,” said Jack Loftus, VP of communications for Nielsen Media Research. “We have been providing the networks with lots of analysis. We have 19 individual studies going. It is a top priority for us.”
Mr. Wurtzel continues to ask Nielsen some looming questions, such as why has a broad range of individual prime-time network shows suddenly lost young male viewers?
He cited these shows: NBC’s “Friends,” which is off 30 percent in men 18 to 24 ratings vs. a year ago; NBC’s “Scrubs,” which is down 32 percent; CBS’s “Survivor: Pearl Islands,” which is 46 percent lower; “CSI,” which fell by 45 percent; Fox’s “24,” which lost 67 percent: ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” which dropped 15 percent; and Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle,” down 28 percent.
“Give me a break,” Mr. Wurtzel said. “Are you telling me that in one year these [young] guys’ attitudes toward these shows radically change? It makes no sense. If this is all about prime-time programming-none of this makes sense.”
If there is a silver lining for networks, it’s that unlike most every other demographic group, young male viewership numbers in broadcast prime-time shows are virtually never guaranteed to advertisers. So networks generally are not getting beat up by advertisers asking for additional commercial inventory. Media-buying executives said from time -to time MTV and Comedy Central guarantee young male viewers. “It’s too volatile to guarantee,” said Mr. Sternberg. “The networks would get killed.”
Weighing In
Other entertainment venues, such as video games, DVD sales and the Internet, are weighing in on the young men issue. One prominent alternative has been the Internet, which already has a high concentration of young male users. Current data shows that to be increasing.
Jim Moloshok, senior VP of media, entertainment, information and finance for Yahoo! said Internet usage is up 18 percent for men 18 to 24 in September, according to Nielsen// NetRatings. Internet executives said this number is virtually a mirror image of the double-digit percent decline in TV usage for the same men 18 to 24 demographic during September.
“There is cause and effect here,” Mr. Moloshok said. “They are increasingly on the Internet. [At the same time] it’s getting harder and harder to launch shows, because young men are not exposed to program promos.”
Mr. Moloshok said that increasingly TV networks and program providers are using the venues on the Internet, such as Yahoo’s entertainment area, to help with promotion of their new shows. He said: “The young demo is getting their TV information on the Internet.”