Median Age Audiences of This Year's Freshman Series Have Little to Do With Success or Failure
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/8/2013 2:10:45 PM
First-year CBS drama Vegas is currently the oldest-skewing new series on broadcast television with a median age audience of 61, but it is averaging 10.6 million viewers, making it the most-watched new drama and the seventh most watched drama currently airing in broadcast primetime.
Another first-year CBS drama, Elementary, has the second-oldest median age audience at 58, and is the second most-watched new series on broadcast with 10.2 million viewers. But it's also the third highest-rated new series among viewers 18-49 with a 2.2 rating.
Conversely, Fox freshman sitcom Ben and Kate, which the network recently canceled, had a median age audience of 39, but was averaging only 2.7 million viewers and a 1.3 18-49 rating.
And five NBC freshman series with median age audiences of 49 or younger are all doing poorly. Sitcom 1600 Penn, with a median age audience of 46, has averaged only 2.9 million viewers and a 1.2 18-49 rating. Sitcom The New Normal, with a median age of 47, is averaging 3.9 million viewers and a 1.5 demo rating. Sitcom Go On, also with a median age of 47, has averaged 5.2 million with a 1.9 18-49 number. Comedy Guys With Kids, with a median age audience of 49, has averaged 3.5 million and a 1.2 in the demo; and new drama Deception, also with a median age of 49, has drawn only 3.7 million viewers per episode and a 1.4 18-49 rating.
In fact, the only freshman series with median age audiences younger than 50 that have been renewed are NBC drama Revolution, posting a median age of 48 with an average audience of eight million viewers per week and a solid 3.0 18-49 demo rating; The CW drama Arrow, with a median age audience of 49, averaging 3.1 million viewers and a 1.0 18-49 rating; and Fox sitcom The Mindy Project, with a median age of 36, averaging 3.1 million viewers and a 1.6 demo rating.
Among the freshman series with median age audiences over 50, nine have been cancelled and seven are still up and running with no word on their future for next season yet.
Billie Gold, VP, director of buying/programming research at media agency Carat, says the factor really determining whether a series is renewed or cancelled is how advertisers perceive it and how desirable it is to put ad dollars into the show-regardless of the median age.
"Last year, Harry's Law was cancelled despite fairly good ratings, because it had one of the oldest median ages of any program on NBC, and advertisers would not pay a premium for it," Gold says. "On the other hand, this season, Elementary, with a median age of 58, higher than most, will definitely get renewed by CBS because it works for the network, advertisers support it and it pulls in decent ratings."
Gold offers some proof in the millennial-skewing CW's shows. The freshman medical series Emily Owens, M.D. drew a median age audience of 52 and Gold said it was almost "dead on arrival." However, another of its freshman series, Arrow, with a median age of 49, also higher than the norm for the network, succeeded because it "was able to bridge the gap between the traditional younger core CW viewer and new older viewers who grew up on comic books and like the genre."
And, adding to the complexity, the youngest skewing freshman series introduced this season, the CW's The Carrie Diaries, with a median age audience of 35, has not done well, averaging only 1.3 million viewers and a 0.5 18-49 audience.
Dramas traditionally skew older than sitcoms and that was the norm once again with this season's crop of freshman series. Of all the new series with a median age audience of 50 or older, only three were comedies and one was quickly canceled. NBC dropped Animal Practice from its lineup early on after the series, which had a median age audience of 53, averaged only 4.2 million viewers and a 1.2 18-49 rating through five episodes.
The two remaining freshman comedies with median age audiences over 50 are ABC's The Neighbors, with a median age of 51, an average viewership of six million and a demo rating of 1.7; and ABC's Malibu Country with a median age of 57, and average viewership of 5.9 and a demo rating of 1.3. Malibu Country stars Reba McEntire, so one would expect the audience to skew a bit older. And it does air on Friday nights when older viewers tend to be home.
"Dramas skew older than sitcoms for many reasons," Gold says. "Sitcoms make an effort to appeal to the 18-49 demo by being more edgy and sexual. Many older people can't relate to that type of humor so they turn to dramas, which are usually on competing networks as counterprogramming. Dramas also tend to have characters that are more relatable to older viewers."
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