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Media Giants Stress Wrong Demographic, Expert Warns

March 30, 2001|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An aging baby boomer population, combined with longer life spans, will heighten pressure on media companies to revise their obsession with the youth market, a research demographer told an audience at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in North Hollywood on Wednesday night.

Ken Dychtwald--author of "Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old" and head of Age Wave Inc., a research and consulting firm--noted in his hourlong presentation that the youth market is shrinking as a percentage of the overall population, "[so] any company trying to grow share against the youth market is making a very big mistake."

Citing census data and demographic trends, Dychtwald noted birth rates are declining while life expectancy keeps increasing. Moreover, older people are "absolutely not acting their age," he said, a development only sparingly recognized by the worlds of advertising and media.

"We are at the birth of a longevity revolution that will change everything," Dychtwald said, calling the baby boomers--those born in the 18 years following World War II--a "huge demographic bulge [that] is migrating out of youth," causing "incredible growth" among those 55 and older over the next decade.

Dychtwald's conclusions come at a time when the entertainment industry faces growing charges of ageism. In October, more than two dozen members of the Writers Guild of America filed a class-action lawsuit against the major networks, studios and talent agencies. The Screen Actors Guild has also commissioned a study regarding age discrimination, monitoring casting and depictions of characters 40 and older.

In recent years, major networks have almost exclusively emphasized ratings among adults younger than 50, the demographic currency their Madison Avenue clients are interested in buying. More stress has also been put on teenagers and adults 18 to 34.

Academy President Jim Chabin indicated that Wednesday's event marked only a first step by the nonprofit organization, which invited human-resources executives from the networks and studios to sit in on Dychtwald's appearance.

Attendance was poor, however, with only about 150 people showing up--less than 2% of the academy's 10,800 members--despite the fact that Dychtwald preceded the academy's annual general membership meeting.

On that front, Chabin stressed that the academy--which derives more than half of its annual revenues from the Nighttime Emmy Awards ceremony--is focusing on negotiating a more lucrative broadcast rights deal once the current contract expires next year.

The Emmys, which now rotate among the four major networks, currently receive about $3 million each year, compared with the $20 million paid by CBS for the Grammy Awards and $50 million ABC shells out for the Oscars.

The academy, which as a TV industry body obviously relies on the networks, is banking on a new TV deal that would significantly increase its broadcast-rights compensation, in the range of $60 million over four years.

As for this year's Nighttime Emmys, CBS and the academy are discussing contingency plans to move the ceremony from its usual mid-September date if strikes by writers and actors delay the fall TV season. Similar talks are underway with cable channel E! Entertainment Television, which is scheduled to televise the presentation of awards in technical areas.

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