Stalking the Younger Viewer
Cable nets turn to originals to attract the 12-34 demographic
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/1/2004 7:00:00 PM
TLC had no prime time ambitions for Trading Spaces when it launched the redecorating show in 2000. What the network needed was a 4 p.m. show as a bridge between feel-good, female daytime shows like Wedding Story and Baby Story and more-general prime time fare. Trading Spaces, with both female and male appeal, seemed a good one. It turned out to be a whole lot more. Within a year, Trading Spaces was added to prime time. By 2002, it had exploded into one of cable's biggest hits.
Of course, this is an unusual tale for a daytime cable show. Still, with more networks turning attention to original programming for afternoons and fringe, lightening could very well strike again. And younger viewers, 12 to 34 years old, are getting the most attention.
In the non-prime time hours (9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET), cable nets can snag younger viewers or—on the opposite end of the demo spectrum—older viewers. Kids programming on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel produce some of the cable's highest daytime ratings. At the other extreme, older-skewing dramas like Murder, She Wrote on A&E and Perry Mason on Hallmark Channel offer fairly substantial draws for daytime.
But the afternoon and early-evening hours have become fertile ground for cable nets looking to tempt younger viewers—particularly 12- to 34-year-olds—with reality and lifestyle fare.
At TLC, daytime is viewed as a place for hooking new viewers and sending them on to prime. The network takes daytime programming seriously. "We hear about people skipping classes to check us out in daytime, people that work from home watching," says TLC General Manager Roger Marmet. "The [daytime] numbers are not only good numbers; they are upscale numbers."
Marmet's goal is a schedule that is all originals and no repeats. It is getting there. TLC recently added redecorating-type strips Clean Sweep and In a Fix in fringe and is looking for a new 7 p.m. show. Relationship shows Perfect Proposal and Second Chance joined the daytime lineup last fall. Five pilots are in the works for daytime. Although no other show has stormed into prime time the way Trading Spaces did, several shows, including Clean Sweep, do get a regular replay in prime.
For even more furious development, take a look at MTV. The network's hallmark is an ever changing schedule, and development for daytime is fast and frenetic.
"We try shows where [viewers] could almost see themselves," says Paul A. DeBenedittis, senior vice president of program planning and scheduling, "and we try to change schedule very often so it doesn't become the same-old same-old like acquisitions on other networks."
MTV's afterschool and evening lineup might change four times a year, corresponding with the seasons and teens' changing schedules. In summertime, for example, MTV starts original series as early as 11 a.m. ET.
There's a method in the scheduling. Earlier shows target younger teens. As the day progresses, MTV reaches out to the older end of its 12-34 range. And everything is a strip, to promote easy appointment viewing.
The channel's current slate features three dating-themed reality shows: Room Raiders, Dismissed and Taildaters. And there's prank show Boiling Points. High School Stories, debunking high school legends, premieres this month. As an anchor, MTV always has its TRL: Total Request Live music show somewhere in the mix.
ABC Family, the latest entrant in teen programming, is going after the more mainstream kids not cool enough for MTV. Off-nets of Full House and 7th Heaven anchor the block, and a few originals are typically on the schedule as well. The originals running now: kids redecorating show Knock First, from the creators of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and reality show Switched, where dissimilar teens swap lives. The teen block has been a rare bright spot for the channel. With a 0.7 household average in January, the block's ratings aren't too far below ABC Family's typical prime time marks.
On TBS Superstation, acquisitions are the programming weapon of choice. The network used to run creaky off-nets like Little House on the Prairie and Matlock during the day. But new Executive Vice President and COO Steve Koonin, who also runs TNT, is jettisoning older shows for programs with more youthful appeal. "It was not where we wanted to go," he said of the older shows. "We're looking for other young-skewing shows to populate daytime." (Hallmark Channel happily picked up rights to both Little House and Matlock.)
He bought reruns of The WB cult classic Dawson's Creek for the morning. In the afternoon, TBS now runs The Steve Harvey Show, The Cosby Show and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, leading into the "Non-Stop Comedy Block" in fringe, which features Friends, Seinfeld and Home Improvement. Koonin says his plan is working: TBS's median age is now about 33 years old in daytime, down from 53 just two years ago.
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