UPN Finds Home Among Young Female Demos

May 30, 2005  •  Post A Comment

UPN may not be an adults 18 to 49 ratings powerhouse, but during the 2004-05 season the network made strides toward becoming a destination for younger female viewers.

While flat for the season in adults 18 to 49 and down 1 percent from 2003-04 in total viewers, UPN has seen gains in a number of targeted demos. For the season the network is up 13 percent in women 18 to 34 and females 12 to 34 (both 1.9) and up 19 percent in teen girls to a 2.0, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The network also had its best May sweeps since it became a five-night network in women 18 to 34 and females 12 to 34.

UPN President Dawn Ostroff said the network has been using the playbook of its bigger corporate cousin, CBS, which grew its ratings after it approached its schedule as “building blocks” and figured out what audience it was going to target.

“We clearly said we were going after 18- to 34-year-olds,” Ms. Ostroff said, “and had the goal to make Mondays through Wednesdays have more flow. We were able to pinpoint young women a little more strongly. Our female demos are up, and the fact that we didn’t lose our overall viewers is a huge plus for us.”

The biggest driver for young female viewers has been the reality series “America’s Next Top Model,” which completed two full installments in 2004-05.

“Clearly you have to have one show that breaks out of the pack and build on it,” Ms. Ostroff said. “We just finished the fourth cycle and it’s as strong as it’s ever been.”

The focus on young women hasn’t been easy, she said, considering that in the past the network was programmed for a different audience on almost every night, veering from shows geared toward young urban audiences to male-skewing sci-fi blocks. And some shows that were designed to attract young women, such as last season’s critically acclaimed legal drama “Kevin Hill,” never found an audience.

Ms. Ostroff called canceling “Kevin” a “heartache,” but noted that “the show struggled a bit” creatively and required a midcourse correction with a new showrunner. She said she hopes the network’s other freshman drama, “Veronica Mars,” fares better next season with the help of a summer promotional pitch and the post-“Model” time period, a slot where “Kevin” was unable to capitalize on its strong lead-in.

“We have to give it the proper exposure,” Ms. Ostroff said of “Veronica,” calling the show “another big building block for us.”

Ms. Ostroff described the network’s discussions with Nielsen over the ratings undercount of black women this season, which Nielsen eventually admitted, as a “hard process for us.” But she said UPN was “satisfied with the outcome,” and added that UPN has seen gains in its Monday night African American-skewing comedy block even with the underreporting.

“We are gaining momentum,” Ms. Ostroff said. “Next season, when the sample is more accurate, we will see growth on Monday night.”

The biggest potential building block could be next fall’s single-camera comedy “Everybody Hates Chris,” from executive producer Chris Rock. The new half-hour attracted significant buzz from advertisers during upfront week after UPN announced it is scheduling the show on Thursdays at 8 p.m. (ET). Ms. Ostroff said the attention given to the show is welcome, but the network will be careful not to oversell its potential.

“With the excitement of having the show everyone is talking about, we’re cautiously optimistic,” she said. “It’s not that we’re necessarily managing expectations, but that we’re realistic.”