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Look Who Controls the Pursestrings

Feb 17, 2008  •  Post A Comment

What women watch is an easier question to answer than Freud’s plaint about what they want. Women watch TV, more of it than men do. They watch cable, especially in the daytime, in numbers that rival prime time. Women surf the Internet more than men, although they’re less likely to watch video content than men. And women time-shift, using the DVR, also more than men.
With the advent of new-media choices, including time-shifting, the Internet, video-on-demand and mobile platforms, what women watch may become less important than where they watch. But the fact that they watch at all is crucial business for advertisers and their broadcast and cable TV partners. Horizon Media Senior VP of Research Brad Adgate, author of a report on the women’s market, estimated that women control 85% of family spending, or $500 billion. “Women have been called the household’s CPO [chief purchasing officer],” he said.
Remember the soccer mom? This 42-plus-year-old mom is still driving her children to sporting events in her minivan, but she has been supplanted by the Alpha Mom, the educated multitasker between 18 and 39 with a household income of $75,000-plus. “Marketers consider these Alpha Moms as females who are plugged in and whose opinions are trusted by their peers,” Mr. Adgate said.
According to Mr. Adgate, Alpha Moms are “very adept with technology,” surfing the Web an average of 87 minutes a day and communicating about online and product experiences via e-mail, BlackBerry, cell phone and their own blogs.
What do women watch online? “A Piper Jaffray survey in 2006 showed that while news is the most popular content for both genders, women are more inclined to watch movie previews, followed by music videos,” said Mr. Adgate, noting that men are more likely to watch amateur videos, then music videos and then movie previews.
Talking about what women watch, however, has its limits. Analyst Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group, insisted that age has to be part of the mix. “We have to think of it in slices of women,” he said. “I look at it as a combination of gender and age. A younger woman doesn’t behave the same as an older one, and the same goes for men.”
Perhaps nowhere is that more clear than with regard to new media. “The early adopters are usually young men,” said Mr. Leichtman. “After them are the fast followers, middle-aged men and younger women. You do see women in the early-adopter group, however, in the
18 to 34 age group, but the young men are still faster to want to adopt new technologies than young women.”
Women have not abandoned television—far from it. Sam Armando, Starcom senior VP and director of video research, noted that in recent years women’s cable share has gone from a 39 (Q4 2004) to a 45 (Q4 2007), with the daytime cable share rising
5 points in the same period.
“There’s been a bit of migration of female viewers from network to cable,” he said. “A lot of cable networks have established dramas in the daytime, so more women have migrated there in the day than in the past.”
“When you look at what networks have the highest concentration of women watching, cable is what pops up,” said Mr. Armando. “SoapNet has 80% of their audience made up of women, Style is 76%, then comes Lifetime and the Lifetime Movie Network.”
That women predominate in cable daytime viewing is only part of the picture; what’s more surprising is how the numbers compare with prime time. “Weekend daytime cable is 80% to 90% of the audience size of prime time,” said John Spiropoulos, MediaVest VP and director of video investment and activation. “For some networks, like Food Network and HGTV, the numbers are equal.”
Broadcast TV is also still in the picture for women viewers. “When we saw the ABC lineup, I said that ABC was going to be the Lifetime of the broadcast world,” said Mr. Armando, listing “Big Shots,” “Women’s Murder Club,” “Private Practice” and “Grey’s Anatomy” among other women-centric shows.
“Women are the last vestige of the broadcast-dominant viewer,” Mr. Spiropoulos said,
“Especially women over 50. The broadcast networks gear their programming to the female audience because they’re the ones most likely to watch entertainment programming. On average, it’s 65% to 70% female on network prime time, and with CW and others that focus on women, it skews 70% to 75% female for female-targeted shows.”
Men do watch entertainment programming, he added, but not in the same numbers as women. Instead, male viewers gravitate to sports and, to some degree, news and documentary. As a viewing bloc, men are much more fragmented than women. “You have many different genres that appeal to men, but in smaller numbers,” Mr. Spiropoulos said.
With large numbers of female viewers come more nuanced female roles and dramas. National Organization of Women VP Latifa Lyles pointed out that, although TV entertainment is still a “mixed bag” when it comes to the representation of women, she has seen some positive developments.
“We’re definitely finding a lot more progress in gender and diversity across the board,” she said. “We love ‘Ugly Betty.’ ‘30 Rock’ is a show by a woman. In ‘Medium,’ Patricia Arquette is a working mom. ‘Girlfriends’ is one of the few shows with a leading cast of all women of color, and other shows, like ‘Lost’ and ‘Heroes,’ are culturally diverse.”
Women are as savvy with the DVR as they are with the Internet. As audiences—especially those made up largely of female viewers—time-shift, TV undergoes a sea-change. “TV will not be capable of supporting our packaged goods clients’ business needs within a few years,” said Mr. Spiropoulos. “New media and time-shifting are taking away a considerable amount of inventory we can quantify via Nielsen. Using the word ‘dire’ is dramatic but not off base.”
All the vaunted opportunities of new media’s more targeted audiences certainly apply to women. “If women want to follow women’s tennis, they’ll go to women’s tennis Web sites, so advertisers who have a core following for tennis players have a better connection,” said Mr. Spiropoulos.
“A more focused audience will make the effort to watch their content in the new-media spaces.”
Regardless of the role new media plays in future viewing patterns, women continue to hold the purse strings, meaning one thing is certain: Where the Alpha Moms go, purveyors of entertainment content will set up shop.

56 Comments

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