By Wayne Karrfalt
Special to TelevisionWeek
It should come as no surprise that men are migrating to cable in record numbers, executives at some of the more male-skewing cable channels said. Cable has the advantage of being able to develop entire networks aimed at the male demo, whereas broadcast television by its very nature must appeal to a broader audience.
Cable researchers said male-skewing networks such as ESPN, the History Channel, Speed Channel and Spike TV are trending upward in the ratings by creating a home for men who feel abandoned by the broadcast networks. Even top-rated broadcast network shows such as “American Idol” and “Desperate Housewives” are often watched by men only to please their significant others, according to internal research conducted by Spike TV, which markets itself as the first network for men.
“They are watching them, but they are not choosing to watch them, and they aren’t happy about it,” said David Gleason, VP of research for Spike.
The trend is touching a variety of genres, dayparts and segments of the male audience, but is most pronounced among younger male viewers, who are drawn to cable’s edgier fare. Executives said the trend will only accelerate as Nielsen steps up efforts to improve measurement, such as including time-shifted viewing and placing meters in college dorm rooms for sample families that have kids living away from home.
Here is a rundown of how some of cable’s more male-oriented brands target male viewers.
Spike TV is coming off its highest-rated quarter ever (first quarter 2005), finishing the month of April as the top-rated cable network among men 18 to 49 in prime time. Its new “Ultimate Fighter” franchise, the finale of which drew 1.4 million in the demo, is the centerpiece of a new strategy to focus on the action genre.
New originals include the animated action/adventure series “Afro Samurai,” produced and voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, and a two-hour backdoor pilot, “Blade,” based on the successful comic and feature film franchise.
“It’s a perfect franchise for Spike because it has a tremendous amount of action,” said Kevin Kay, executive VP of programming and production for Spike.
Refining the POV
Comedy Central, whose audience is younger, more upscale and about 60 percent male, also cracked the top-ranked cable networks in the demo last year with mainstays such as “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “South Park.” Its strategy is to continue to refine its sharp, sardonic point of view with new shows such as “Weekends at the DL” with comedian D.L. Hughley, premiering July 29; “The Colbert Report,” starring “Daily Show” correspondent Stephen Colbert; and new vehicles in development for Chris Rock and former “Man Show” host Adam Carolla.
TBS’s nightly comedy block also delivers adult males in large numbers. Reruns such as “Seinfeld” and “Sex and the City” and originals like “The Real Gilligan’s Island,” back for a second season starting June 8, outdraw any other cable network in males 18 to 49 between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays, according to Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for the network.
Sports-related programming on ESPN continues to draw the largest number of adult male viewers on cable during prime time. Its digital sister networks ESPNews, ESPN Classic, ESPN Deportes and ESPNHD tend to skew younger than ESPN’s 38-year-old median age and are among the leaders in male concentration. Original series and movies such as “3,” the highest-rated original movie on cable last year, also attract younger audiences and more casual sports fans.
This year ESPN2 will benefit from new shows such as “Quite Frankly” with Steven Smith and “ESPN Hollywood.” “Newlywed Game” takeoff “Teammates,” “ESPN Bowling Night” and “Battle of the Gridiron Stars,” all produced to fill holes left by the hockey lockout, are bringing in fresh audiences.
“They touch younger viewers but also bring back older fans that remember game shows from a different era,” said David Berson, senior VP of program planning and promotion for ESPN.
Showcasing specials and series that explore different facets of history, History Channel is climbing, particularly in the older half of the male demo. For the first week of May, the network ranked ninth among men 18 to 49, its ratings improving 13 percent over last year. Its audience also ranks among cable’s most upscale, according to the network’s president, Dan Davids.
New series on tap for this year include “Automaniac,” premiering in June, and the special “The Crusades: Crescent and the Cross,” running in the fourth quarter.
In a similar kind of informational vein, Discovery Channel also skews much more male these days with its slate of testosterone-charged shows such as “American Chopper” and “Monster Garage.”
Outdoor Life Network draws large numbers of male viewers with its coverage of cycling events, including the Tour de France every July and professional bull riding matches throughout the year. A bigger investment in original programming is also paying off, said Senior VP of Programming and Production Marc Fein. The new outdoor cop show “E-Force,” set in the Florida Keys, is averaging 300,000 viewers, 80 percent of whom are males 18 to 54.
G4 is one of the few cable networks specializing in a young, technically savvy male demo. Its gaming and gadget review shows and industry news programs help deliver an audience that is 82 percent males between the ages of 12 and 34. The network hopes to broaden its reach with “Video Game Vixens,” a beauty pageant for virtually rendered hotties, premiering June 7.
“This demo is very tough to reach, and even though we’re a smaller network, there are lots of passionate media buyers interested in us,” said G4 CEO and founder Charles Hirschhorn. “We’ve had strong support from national advertisers from the beginning.”