Now more than ever, women are dominating screens big and small
By Claire Atkinson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/21/2008 2:00:00 AM
Women rule—at least in the eye of the camera.
At the box office the movie Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds grossed $65.1 million domestically ($31 million in three days), and Oscar-honored teen pregnancy movie Juno, which cost a low-budget $7.5 million to make, took in a blockbuster $143 million domestically for Fox Searchlight. At the end of May, New Line will bring back HBO's wildly popular Carrie Bradshaw and her gal pals in Sex and the City: The Movie. Behind the screen, five of the 10 Academy Award-nominated scripts were written or co-written by women, says Hollywood script consultant Linda Seger, author of When Women Call the Shots.
Some of the Web's hottest sites at the moment include female-oriented and female-run sites. Chasing Huffingtonpost.com, a political site started by Arianna Huffington, are Yahoo's Shine, with 40 million women visitors, and the independent site Wowowow.com, from a group including ad guru Mary Wells, actress Candice Bergen, gossip columnist Liz Smith and HBO's Sheila Nevins, among others.
But no medium has fallen for females quite like the TV screen has lately. “There's been an explosion in female-centered drama series, something virtually unheard of before in the '90s, including an almost completely new genre, female-centered action,” says Tim Havens, a communications professor at the University of Iowa. “The new Bionic Woman, Alias and Xena: Warrior Princess have all expanded the diversity of roles for women and the kinds of stories that TV tells about women.”
Not to mention The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the female leads of Heroes and Lost.
Now more than ever, women are dominating screens big and small, in part because of more earning power and better career opportunities, which are having a dramatic effect on what women watch, consume and how they're addressed by advertisers. “It's difficult to find a category that isn't obsessed with women right now,” says Mary Lou Quinlan, founder/CEO of marketing shop Just Ask a Woman. “Whether it's young moms or boomer women. We started our company nine years ago and people said, 'Why focus on a niche?' It's amazing how it's expanded beyond female categories to Best Buy and Sony.”
This season, Gossip Girl, Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle jostled for viewers against an extraordinary number of female detectives (Women's Murder Club), doctors (Grey's Anatomy), forensic scientists (CSI, Bones) and lawyers (Closer). Even the less career-oriented women on Desperate Housewives and Bravo's The Real Housewives franchise continue to deliver big ratings. In syndication, too, women dominate talk, cooking, even court genres, whether it's Ellen, Martha, Oprah or Judge Judy.
Men: fickle, undependable
It's hardly a secret that television is a women's medium. On average, more women (52.3 million) watch television than men (44.5 million), and they watch more of it. Still, recent ratings reveal that women more strongly influence the medium than previously thought. Nielsen Media Research conducted analysis of the broadcast networks to see just how far they skew female. Every broadcast network has more female viewers than male, with the exception of TV Azteca and TeleFutura. While CBS drew the highest number of women in the 18-plus demographic—an average of 5.8 million females during primetime last season (live-plus-same-day viewers) against only 3.8 million men—ABC's average female audience is almost double that of men: 4.9 million versus 2.5 million.
ABC's huge female audience, born of its decision to give up Monday Night Football in 2005, might lead one to conclude that the network made a decision to pursue the fairer sex. “I don't think the entertainment division said, let's skew women,” says Larry Hyams, VP of audience analysis at ABC. He says ABC simply started catering to the gender that was already showing up in droves for Desperate Housewives and Grey's. “The shows that tended to work on ABC were the ones that appealed to women. It's easier to hold on to viewers than attract them with new programming. So if you watched Grey's Anatomy, then you're more likely to watch Private Practice.”
Cutting the data a different way shows that the top-rated shows for women draw far more viewers than the top shows for men. According to Nielsen, the top-rated, regularly scheduled show for men is NBC's Sunday Night Football, which drew on average 9.4 million male viewers over 18. That's still almost six million fewer than the top show for women, American Idol-Tuesday, which drew, on average, 15.1 million women viewers in the same age group. (The data is based on live-plus-same-day ratings, season-to-date through April 6, 2008.)
Indeed, the broadcast business could not survive without catering aggressively to women's tastes. Perhaps that's one reason NBC Universal snapped up Oxygen Media for $925 million last year, after paying $600 million for iVillage in 2006.
“Men are just not dependable core viewers. They're very fickle,” says Alan Wurtzel, NBC Universal's president of research and media development. “Women are much more open and willing to commit to programs.” He sees women viewers as the backbone of any broadcast network schedule. Women, who make up 52% of the population, watch 40 minutes more primetime television than men in any week: 8 hours 50 minutes a week, to men's 8 hours 10 minutes.
One big reason advertisers are eager to reach women is that research shows women as the biggest decision-makers in a home. Women make up 46% of the labor force with the majority, 51%, in high-paying management, professional and related occupations such as financial managers and education administrators, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor. Surprisingly, more than 80% of women said they're the major decision-makers when it comes to buying a new HD TV set, according to separate surveys conducted by women-focused cable channels Lifetime and Oxygen—a shocker considering men's obsession with electronics and gadgetry.
The empowered woman is becoming a fixation for advertisers. Holly Buchanan, co-author of The Soccer Mom Myth: Today's Female Consumer, Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys, praises a new category of advertising that speaks to the empowered female. She describes marketers who are seeking to go beyond the stereotypical “do it in pink” strategy for targeting women. Buchanan singles out a Lincoln Financial Group ad which features a retired woman, Gloria, looking after her own finances, while an ad for Logitech Webcams shows a businesswoman on the road conferencing Dad at home with the kids. “It's really a trend that I'm seeing,” says Buchanan, a senior persuasion architect at New York ad agency Future Now.
It's no accident that packaged goods firm Procter & Gamble, whose products are largely directed at women, spent $2.3 billion on television, almost half its total ad spend of $4.9 billion, in 2006. The company has ranked as the No. 1 or No. 2 advertiser in the nation for 50 of the past 52 years, according to Advertising Age data.
The trend toward more women-oriented fare is having an effect on how TV is consumed. Lifetime Network's own research guru, executive VP Mike Greco, suggests that some men are abandoning women to their own shows. Men are much less willing to watch a female-oriented show than vice versa. “Among the top 25 shows, 62% of women are viewing shows alone,” he says. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to watch VOD than women, according to research firm Rentrak.
TV advertising is still sold on the basis of gender and age, but that's changing as both buyers and sellers turn toward newer currencies, such as engagement metrics or commercial ratings. But even here, women are much more “engaged” in advertising, even in traditionally male-oriented categories. Brand Keys is an advertising consultancy that studies consumer loyalty and engagement with products advertised on TV. The agency's Brand to Media Survey 2007 shows that ads for airlines, cellphones, insurance and investment services engage women in greater numbers than men. Ads for electronics, pizza and beer showed men to be more engaged than women.
Terms of engagement
Separately, the study also showed that the majority of women are much more highly engaged with the evening news than in news shows in the morning, perhaps reflecting their role as chief organizer during the earlier hours. “Advertisers do know where to locate targets,” says Brand Keys founder and president Robert Passikoff. “It's important to understand whether the TV is an engaging mechanism or not.” For women, it is clearly the glue that binds their leisure time and social interactions. A browse of the newsstands shows an insatiable reader desire to connect with the lives of female TV stars.
Helen Katz, senior VP and director of research at Starcom MediaVest Group, explains how simple gender and age will become less important to advertisers eager to get more behavioral data as the media landscape evolves. “As we move toward addressable advertising, it won't be women age 25-54, it will be women with young children, who shop at a certain store and take part in certain activities,” she says. For now, though, there's never been a better time to be a woman watching TV.
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