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ABC Turns On Affluent Set

Nov 8, 2004  •  Post A Comment

ABC’s successful new dramas have helped the network attract the kinds of upscale viewers that advertisers are desperate to reach.

For the first six weeks of the season, “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Boston Legal” are all among the top 15 shows in attracting viewers 18 to 49 with household incomes of more than $75,000 and more than four years of college education. “Housewives” is the top-rated program in that category.

Those shows have been the backbone of a remarkably quick turnaround for ABC among upscale viewers. Its ratings jumped to a 4.5 in this important demographic, up from 3.6 last year. And its concentration of upscale viewers jumped from a slightly below-average index of 98 to a 110. ABC’s index figure trails NBC, the longtime leader in both categories. NBC’s rating also is a 4.5, down from 4.9 last season, with a 117 index, up from 111.

Advertisers will pay more to reach affluent households, and they’re starting to take notice of the change at ABC. Market sources said American Express, which covets upscale viewers, has bought ABC for a new campaign it is about to launch. American Express bought ABC sparingly last season.

“The upscale viewer is very, very hard to reach because typically, they’re not the heaviest TV viewers, so it’s especially a wow factor for us that our dramas in particular are now capturing this elusive, hard-to-reach audience,” said Geri Wang, executive VP of sales at ABC.

“We had been a very mainstream network, indexing in the high 90s. Now we’re at 110, which is amazing. Our audience is 10 percent more likely to live in a home making more than $75,000 and be college-graduated. It’s astonishing that in six weeks we’ve been able to change the demographic base of this network.”

That change makes ABC more attractive to certain key advertisers.

“It’s not that important to a packaged goods [company], but it’s obviously important to an automotive company or a technology company, a financial company. That audience is difficult to reach and if you can find it, that’s great,” said Shari Cohen, co-executive director of MindShare, which handles media buying for American Express.

She declined to talk about American Express’s plans, but said ABC has “definitely improved for the upscale demo, and that’s a desirable demo for American Express. We’d be remiss if we didn’t look at all our options.”

Having upscale viewers has helped ABC get higher prices for its commercials.

“It’s allowed us to push up CPMs,” Ms. Wang said. “We are writing above the upfront. It’s not some crazy, out-of-control marketplace. But there’s been a nice steady stream and clients want to buy our shows.”

Market sources say spots on “Desperate Housewives” are selling for up to $375,000, up from about $185,000 in the upfront.

Most of that increase reflects that viewership is nearly double what the network and most buyers estimated before the season started. ABC held a lot of inventory out of the upfront and that strategy is paying off. But with the overall market weak, CPM increases have been limited, buyers said.

“There’s a huge wow factor attached to this show. Not only in volume, not only in its critical acclaim, not only because it’s fun to watch but also because we have that upscale story,” Ms. Wang said.

In the past, ABC has offered its Academy Awards broadcast as its primary way to reach rich viewers and business leaders. “Now that we have `Desperate,’ which has been the highest upscale demo ratings out of every show on network television, it’s kind of cool,” Ms. Wang said.

“Even our repeat of `Desperate Housewives’ on Saturday is over a 100 index,” she said, “and our advertisers are always looking to ferret out these demographic nuggets.”

NBC Still Strong

While “Desperate Housewives” has the highest ratings among upscale viewers, some NBC shows still have the highest concentration of those upscale viewers.

NBC’s “The West Wing” and “The Apprentice,” which had the highest indexes last year, are tops again so far this season. “West Wing” has a 167 index, up from 148 last year. “The Apprentice” has a 157 index. Other NBC shows with strong indexes include “Will & Grace,” “Law & Order,” “Joey” and “ER.”

In terms of an index, “Boston Legal” is ABC’s top show with upscale viewers, with a 144. “Desperate Housewives” is second with a 135, which ties it with NBC’s “Will & Grace.”

CBS’s show with the highest index is “60 Minutes,” with a 128.

With its younger overall viewership, Fox has no shows that index over 100 for upscale viewers. Its top performer is “North Shore” with a 98. Overall, the network averages a 1.7 rating and 76 index for the demographic.

CBS last week also made claims for upscale viewers. For the first four weeks of the season, CBS said it is ranked first among $100,000-plus-income households and, for the first time since 1996, first among adults 25 to 54 in $100,000-plus-income households. The top-ranked shows among viewers 25 to 54 in these very upscale households are “Desperate Housewives,” “CSI” and “The Apprentice.” The $100,000 income figure is new for Nielsen, introduced just last season.