TV for Men: Playing Ball to Grab the Demo

May 30, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Wayne Karrfalt

Special to TelevisionWeek

Almost every time you see the phrase “male demographic” in print, the adjective “elusive” precedes it, and with good reason. Men don’t watch as much television as women. Their TV time is more often shared with games, gadgets and computers.

“It’s the nature of the beast, so to speak,” quipped Kathy Crawford, president of local broadcast for MindShare.

Television is still the medium of choice to reach men, but buyers are becoming more selective about the networks and shows they buy for that purpose. Male viewership has splintered into a thousand pieces, and planners have had to adjust their strategies accordingly. Often that means combining broadcast with cable to increase frequency and reach niche male interests in an environment where they are more actively engaged.

For maximum exposure, “stick and ball” sporting events and hit shows on broadcast still pack the most wallop. Nine of the 10 top-rated programs among men 18 to 49 this season were sporting events on one of the Big 4 networks and 123 out of the top 126 telecasts overall could be found on broadcast, said Gary Belis, VP of communications for the Television Bureau of Advertising.

This year’s Super Bowl is the season’s highest-rated program to date, garnering a 37.1 rating among men 18 to 49. Baseball has done well too, topping out at a 14.6 rating for the demo in Game 7 of the historic Red Sox-Yankees American League Championship Series last fall.

Sports-related programming on cable also continues to aggregate large numbers of men, as more of the expensive rights packages are being snapped up by cable networks such as ESPN and TNT, which can afford them because of their dual advertising and subscription revenue streams. In the latest example of this trend, ESPN nabbed the rights to the 36-year-old “Monday Night Football” franchise last month for a record $8.9 billion.

ESPN plans to amortize the rights across a variety of outlets, offering advertisers the ability to reach men on cellphones, the Internet and three separate ESPN networks during game time. The fact that “MNF” is the top-rated regular program for men signifies only part of its importance to advertisers, who look for events that pull men together on a variety of platforms.

“Our strength is that we will be able to present it in a multimedia environment,” said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN and ABC Sports consumer marketing and sales.

Sports programming defies the trend of time-shifting, Mr. Erhardt said. “Because of fragmentation and what’s going on with technology, there are few TV genres that are TiVo-deflective and can accumulate a live audience like sports,” he said.

But Spike TV’s interpretation of Nielsen data finds that men 18 to 49 spend only 12 to 13 percent of their viewing time watching live sports. Buyers must seek a variety of options to reach them the rest of the time.

“Media planners are trying to extend their reach to make sure a lot of men are seeing their commercials instead of a few of them seeing them over and over again,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System. “That means planning to spend on a broader variety of networks.”

Several cable networks, including some unexpected ones, attract high concentrations of men. Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, which broke out as a separate entity in April, delivered more men 18 to 49 that month, on average, during its hours on the air, than ESPN did with its total day average. The Adult Swim block runs from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday.

“Clients don’t always understand why it’s on the buy sheet, but in the scheme of things it can be quite effective,” MindShare’s Ms. Crawford said.

Cable in general is trending upward versus broadcast, said Spike TV VP of Research David Gleason. Spike has experienced sharp gains in the past month for the broader male demo, averaging a 1.0 cumulative rating among men 18 to 49 in prime time, a 43 percent increase over last year, he said.

More specialized channels such as Outdoor Life Network are attracting more advertisers, in part because they deliver men who are passionate about the subject matter and more engaged with the commercials.