Reality Is What Women Want

Oct 11, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Shannon Peavey

Special to TelevisionWeek

Since females outnumber males by more than 8 million in the U.S. television universe, according to Nielsen Media Research, the broadcast networks are always interested in attracting them. But it can be a challenge to pinpoint women’s preferences from one season to the next.

“These things are cyclical; it’s a work in progress,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director, Horizon Media.

As women work longer hours and their place in the home changes, they are becoming choosier about what they see, Mr. Adgate said. “When they watch, they really want to be entertained.”

According to Nielsen Media Research, during the 2003-04 broadcast season 13 of the top 25 series among women 18 to 49 were in thegenre, six were sitcoms and six were dramas. Female viewers clearly show an openness to innovation in programming, blending new shows such as “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance” and “Two and a Half Men” into their weekly TV mix while staying faithful to dramas such as “CSI” and “Law & Order” and established comedies such as “Friends,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Will & Grace.”

“By nature women tend to be more open-minded and receptive to new kinds of shows,” said Kevin Reilly, VP of entertainment for NBC, which had 12 of the top 25 network shows among women 18 to 49 last season.

For Mr. Reilly, the common factor is good storytelling. “I really believe women will watch if there is a good story being told to engage interest,” he said.

At the same time, he said, NBC doesn’t target women exclusively with its programming. The six major broadcast networks can’t afford to do that. For them, it’s about getting the broadest audience possible.

Women’s preferences can certainly drive overall trends, as they have in the case ofprogramming. “Women were the first to go to theshows,” said David Poltrack, executive VP, research and planning, for CBS. “There’s no indication that women are moving away from these shows, but the responses we get from our viewers suggest that there may be too many of them now. It’s analogous to daytime soap operas. They tend to watch one or two-only their favorites. I think that’s the kind of shakedown we’re seeing in thearea.”

Makeover shows “The Swan” on Fox and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on ABC proved popular last season, ranking in the top 30 among women 18 to 49, just ahead of “Paradise Hotel” and “Celebrity Mole.”

Traditionally, women have also made up the bulk of the audience for drama series, and CBS’s successful “CSI,” “CSI: Miami” and “Without a Trace” have the qualitative elements that keep them at the top of women’s lists, Mr. Poltrack said. Emotion and relationships are important, as are characters that represent today’s smart, independent, professional female psyche.

“Women tend to lean toward the more realistic,” he said. “Their preferred shows tend to represent strong characters with whom they can relate.”

Of the top 25 shows among women 18 to 49, NBC’s “ER,” “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: SVU” fit that bill. The network also found a new hit in “Las Vegas” last season, with the series coming in at No. 32 in that sought-after demographic.

UPN has carved out a niche for itself, especially among African American women in the 18 to 49 age group, a demo where the network was ranked No. 1 during the 2003-04 season. Dawn Ostroff, president, entertainment, for UPN said the network’s female skew in its Monday-through-Wednesday lineup this season is intentional, designed to build on the strengths of its comedies such as “Eve,” “Girlfriends” and “Half & Half” and to capitalize on the success of hit “America’s Next Top Model.” That series delivered the network’s highest ratings ever among women 18 to 49 with a 4.4/10 last season, ranking as the 45th-most-popular network series in the demo.

“We definitely develop thinking about how to keep the women that we do have at the network,” Ms. Ostroff said. “With `America’s Next Top Model’ we are keeping those viewers and gaining new women as well.”