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In Search of Affluent Viewers

Jan 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Television is not usually thought of as an upscale medium. But that hasn’t stopped media planners from estimating its reach among the most affluent American consumers.
Historically, their ability to do so has been relatively limited. Until this season, Nielsen Media Research’s ratings, the official currency of most TV advertising buys, provided demographic data for households earning $75,000-plus as its highest income break. But effective this season, Nielsen has given the TV advertising marketplace a hefty wage increase, boosting its upper-income break to households earning $100,000-plus. The data is shedding new insights into which networks and programs deliver the most affluent viewers and is raising new questions about how and when TV should be used to target them.
The top-line finding indicates that TV in general, and broadcast networks in particular, may not be an especially efficient way of reaching the biggest U.S. earners, but depending on the network, program and specific age/sex demographic profile a marketer is looking to reach, some TV properties index significantly more upscale than the overall population.
Only about 3 percent of the prime-time audience of the six broadcast networks, for example, lived in households earning $100,000-plus during the fall TV season (October through November 2003). That’s considerably lower than the composition of the overall TV universe, 4 percent of which consisted of $100,000-plus income households. But according to a report released last week by media buying agency Magna Global USA, marked differences exist among the broadcast networks and the shows they air in their composition of the most affluent households.
“So far this season, Fox is the most upscale network,” noted Steve Sternberg, executive VP and director of audience analysis at Magna and author of the report. Analyzing the new Nielsen data, he found that 4 percent of Fox’s prime-time audience lives in $100,000-plus households, the same as the overall population. That may not seem like much of a bragging right, but it’s demonstrably better than the profiles of the other major networks. Only 3 percent of the prime-time viewers of ABC, NBC and The WB live in $100,000-plus households, while only 2 percent of the viewers of ViaNecom’s CBS and UPN networks do.
While trend data is not yet available on the $100,000 income break, the Magna report does trend each network’s performance among $75,000-plus households over the past few years and shows that Fox has been ascending in its reach of affluent viewers.
Mr. Sternberg noted that 8 percent of Fox’s fall 2003 audience lived in $75,000-plus households, up a percentage point from 7 percent in fall 2002. The prime-time audience compositions of the other broadcast networks, meanwhile, have either remained flat (ABC, NBC and UPN) or declined (CBS and The WB). In fact, The WB’s composition of households earning $75,000-plus actually declined 2 percentage points to 6 percent in the fall of 2003 from 8 percent in the fall of 2002.
The profile of each network’s audience affluence changes dramatically when looked at in terms of discrete audience demographics, or on the basis of specific TV programs. For example, Fox may have the greatest concentration of affluent household viewers on a total-viewers basis, but when it comes to reaching older adults in those households, it lags the broadcast prime-time average.
Conversely, NBC, which is only average in terms of total viewers, dominates when it comes to reaching consumers in all the major adult demographic breaks living in $100,000-plus households. Among adults 25 to 54, which is the primary demographic used by most national advertisers to buy network TV, 13 percent of NBC’s viewers in that demo come from those affluent households, compared with only 10 percent in the overall population.
While the data is shedding interesting insights about the affluent nature of network prime-time programming, it still begs the questions: How, when, where and why the data might influence how marketers actually plan and buy network TV shows.
Because of the way the networks actually sell their shows, generally guaranteeing audience delivery against only broad demographic breaks, it is unlikely that the new data will have much application in terms of making or posting prime-time advertising buys. The data could, however, have a profound influence on the way Madison Avenue plans network TV to reach the most affluent consumers.
Generally, broadcast TV buys are used to generate the broadest possible reach of a general demographic and rarely to target an audience that is so discrete it represents only 4 percent of the population. For that, media planners usually think of more narrowly targeted media options such as magazines, certain cable TV networks and programs, or narrow network dayparts such as the Sunday morning national affairs shows such as “Meet the Press” or “This Week.”
“It is a tiny subset of the population. Of the 104 million households in America, something like 11 million of them are $100,000-plus. But some marketers target them and certain networks pitch them,” said Jane Lacher, VP, director of research and consumer context planning, at MediaVest Worldwide, “For a marketer like Kraft, it’s not so important. That’s not who we are targeting.”
Ms. Lacher, who handles planning for Kraft and other mass marketers, said the application of the data is more logical for luxury items. Even so, she said, the data is unlikely to alter the mix of media used by most high-end categories. “You’re not going to see a fashion company like Louis Vuitton move out of print and into TV because of this,” she said.
But Steve Lanzano, executive VP and managing director of MPG, said, “It’s one more tool for us to work with.” Rather than wholesale changes, he said, the impact is likely to be some fine-tuning of TV schedules on a “show-by-show basis.”