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Older TV viewers driving audience growth, but it's a mixed blessing

June 19, 2013|By Joe Flint
  • Call it the "Matlock" effect: TV viewing among older Americans is on the rise.
Call it the "Matlock" effect: TV viewing among older Americans… (Los Angeles Times )

By 2015, almost half of all television viewing will be done by folks over the age of 50, says media analyst Todd Juenger of Sanford C. Bernstein Co. in a new report titled "Bring Back 'Matlock'?"

That is a mixed blessing for the TV industry. On one hand, the tendency of older viewers to consume more television means that the overall audience is growing. On the other hand, advertisers prefer to reach younger viewers, and those numbers are in decline.

The reason advertisers target younger viewers is because of the belief that they are easier to persuade to try new products as opposed to older viewers who tend to be set in their ways.

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The TV networks also want to reach younger viewers because they can charge advertisers more. Because older viewers typically consume greater levels of TV, commercials targeting them are cheaper.

Many younger viewers are watching more of their entertainment online. This creates a dilemma for the TV industry, which wants to put more content online but at the same time needs to protect the television screen.

Writes Juenger: "They can choose to try to capture more online dollars for themselves, but the more they encourage their viewers to eschew traditional TV, the more they hasten the demise of their core business — especially if it ultimately enables cord-cutting."

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This is one of the key reasons that programmers and distributors are trying to bring the pay-TV model to the Web through their TV Everywhere initiative. However, the industry has struggled in marketing TV Everywhere to viewers in a clear and uniform fashion, which is slowing progress.

TV networks have also been working hard to erase the perception that older Americans don't embrace new things and have been working to try to persuade advertisers that they too use iPhones and tablets and change toothpaste brands.

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.

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