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Where the boys are

Tracking the elusive 18-34 male demo 10/08/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

There are practical difficulties for networks in attracting advertising aimed at young men. Generally, 18- to 34-year-old guys don't watch much TV in the first place, unless, of course, there's plenty of action and outrageous humor like Comedy Central's South Park. The flip side is that shows like South Park also attract the attention of TV critics who say that such programs have too much sex and violent content. But none of that seems to matter to its audience. South Park is still the top-rated original series on cable for men age 18-34, excluding movies, events and sports.

"South Park can be a little blue, and some advertisers would have to be concerned," says Kevin Coyne, executive vice president and director of media and new technologies for Bates North America. "Certain clients wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. But other clients have no objection to South Park because it's the demographic that's appealing."

Coyne declined to identify his clients, but says their products include soft drinks and various fashion brands, whose commercials have aired on South Park.

Brad Adgate, senior vice president and director of research at Horizon Media, notes that shows with perennial bad boy Howard Stern, airing on E!, attract the younger end of the male 18-34 demo. "The more outrageous the show, the better your ratings are. But it may be too controversial for advertisers who are sensitive to content, because people write letters."

Younger male audiences are also drawn to science fiction, whether in syndication or on networks, according to Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming for the Katz Television Group. He says the shows that target the young male audiences bring in commercials for movies, fast foods, and, at the upper end, automobiles and music. "These are the things that advertisers know attract young people.

"When [young men] get to the point they can actually purchase beer," Carroll adds, "the implication of the [ads] is that, if you buy the right beer, you'll attract the right women," the message of Playboy magazine. "The advertising doesn't go in for subtlety, whether it's beer or cars or motorcycles."

So why do advertisers think cable reaches the young-male demo more effectively?

About 80% of the 100 million television households in the United States have cable. Of that number, men in the 18-34 demo constitute about 30.4 million viewers or approximately 12% of the total persons in television homes, according to Nielsen Media Research. That's not a huge universe, but some advertisers will pay a premium to air products on cable shows that lure young and restless adult males to the tube, says Tim Spengler, executive vice president and director of national broadcast for Initiative Media in Los Angeles, a full-service media-management company. "They're harder to reach. And the harder, the more valuable they are. Some advertisers are willing to pay a premium to reach that group, and they'll pay what it takes. Movies are the biggest [advertisers], because that group [comprises] early attenders the first weekend.

"They don't have as much money as someone 50 years old, but they're beginning to form brand loyalties, and that's going to affect products like toothpaste," adds Spengler. "If they start using Crest in college and then buy it for themselves when they're first in the workplace, in theory you have the chance they'll use Crest for the rest of their lives."

The demo also tends to be "a very strong early-adopter audience" eager to experiment with high-tech toys, says Hank Close, senior vice president of advertising sales for Comedy Central. The network recently launched Battlebots, a series about combat among robots, for a network where male viewers account for 70% of the audience.

Battlebots has already climbed to No. 3 in the top 10 for the demo, and Close has high hopes it will do even better, especially among males 18-25.

"[Advertisers] generally will pay a premium, because it's all related to supply and demand," Close explains. "There will be advertisers in the technology field, anywhere from dotcoms to personal video recorders.

"The amount advertisers targeted for men 18-34 is not big," Close admits. But he insists that Comedy Central is quickly becoming for advertisers "an A-list alternative to buying sports." Automotive products were the second-largest advertising category for the network after movies, he says.

Brian Graden, president of programming at MTV, whose Real World IX ranks second among original series for the male demo, says its advertisers hawk everything from sneakers to cars. The network's audience ranges from low-end consumers to those with considerable disposable income.

Graden attributes the interest of advertisers in the 18-34 male demo to "intense fragmentation" across cable since the 1990s when, he notes, "every subgroup's tastes were indulged" so that there are now 200 channels from which to choose, compared with 10 in the previous decade.

However, Graden says there is still "more surfing associated with male viewers and less brand loyalty, unless it's predicable things like sports."

Women in the same age group are less fickle viewers, says Tim Brooks, senior vice president of research at Lifetime Television, noting that women have always watched more television than men. "The big mass-advertisers traditionally target women because the bulk of products are pharmaceutical, supermarket products and other packaged goods. Their sales are driven more by women, who still do most of the buying for the household."

But back in the 1970s and 1980s, Brooks recalls, there was almost no programming specifically aimed at men except sports.

"Every sitcom was female-oriented," he says. "Male-oriented programming was almost squeezed out of prime time. Only in recent years did the cable networks look for a niche for men."

According to Brooks, the immense popularity of wrestling on Monday-night prime time cable opened up the cable networks'eyes to the realization that they could draw young men-with the right kind of programming. Going a step further, Comedy Central, FX and USA networks have introduced outrageous, politically incorrect fare such as The Man Show and, more recently, Son of the Beach on FX, produced by Howard Stern. Son is now No. 10 among cable originals attracting 18-34 male viewers.

SOB, a ribald comedy spoof that seems to parody both the hot flesh on Baywatch and the bumbling television spy of yore, Maxwell Smart, reportedly beat TNT's first original series, Bull, by 40,000 viewers in the adult 18-49 demo in its Tuesday 10-10:30 p.m. slot. All the more surprising given that TNT reaches 25 million more homes than FX.

"We developed [SOB] with younger men in mind. But we're also looking at a psychographic, a mindset," says Peter Liguori, president of FX and FOX Movie Channel. "I don't expect the white-glove advertisers to come to it," he says of SOB, which has been picked up for a second season by FX Networks. But he says the show has attracted apparel, beer and sports advertisers.

Liguori, who was vice president of consumer marketing at HBO before he joined FOX in 1998, described demographics in the ad game as a "quick and easy" vocabulary for media buyers and sellers. Looking at income and education narrows the demo, he said: "Age is not relevant to someone who is savvy, upwardly mobile and wants to get past the tried and the true."

But Scott Safon, senior vice president of marketing for TNT, says age counts up to a point. "There's a big discrepancy between what an 18-year-old and a 34-year old chooses to watch. I would guess a show like Son of the Beach would probably be more popular among men under 25, while a show like Bull probably has more affinity with someone around 30. The mindset is different with that group."

Safon says the marketing for Bull, a financial drama, is aimed at a broad viewer base, ages 25-45, composed of "people out there working, who might not call themselves yuppies but who like shows like The Practice and appreciate the excitement and drama of the business world."

He says the series has attracted blue-chip advertisers-among them Audi, Disney Cruise Lines, DreamWorks, Salomon Smith Barney, IBM and Microsoft.

Of course, the range in lifestyles and tastes among men 18 to 34 is so vast that there are no easy clues to their viewing habits as a whole. "The 18-34 demo is elusive for a reason," says Bob Igiel, president of the broadcast division at Media Edge in New York. "There's a big difference between a kid who's 18 and guy who's 34 with three kids. So there are segments within that market, whether they're kids in school or who have worked 10 years or longer. You can't generalize about that market."

Bates' Coyne agrees, noting: "The person who watches the History Channel is not necessarily the same person who watches The Man Show on Comedy Central. It depends on what you're trying to sell. Apparel for that group is the life blood for brands," he says of the younger end of the demo.

It could be fashion markets like Levi's. However, he adds, "I'm sure Cadillac isn't interested in men 18-34. And financial services are more interested in high net-worth individuals, because they'll make them more money than someone just starting off in his career."

Within the young male demo, Comedy Central's offbeat programming attracts a huge college audience-most of them male viewers-for such shows as John Stewart's parody of the news, The Daily Show, says Michele Gainless, senior vice president of programming for the network. "Comedy tends to reach more men," she notes. "Even Saturday Night Live is skewed to about 55% male. And there's a high return because they're not watching as much [television] as women."

But about 30% of Comedy Central's viewers are young women, Gainless says, speculating: "Maybe they want a little insight into what makes men tick."

Man-made advertising

June-Jan.'00 June-Jan.'99 1999


(Advertising revenue in millions of $)

Howard Stern




The Man Show




South Park




Real World




Son of the Beach




NA=Not applicable

Source: Competitive Media Reporting

For advertisers who want to reach the coveted 18-34 male demo, those certain shows that attract a higher percentage of male viewers is where they want to be. Not surprisingly, the products pitched to this demo include movies, videogames, music, cars, long-distance phone service, fast food, computers, apparel, sports apparel and beer. Major advertisers on Howard Stern include Warner Bros. Pictures, Sony Music, Lycos and Miller beer. Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Levi's, Hyundai and Old Navy advertise on The Man Show. Comedy Central's South Park has ads for Apple, Heineken, Nintendo and Saturn, while the Real World racks up spots for Burger King, the Gap, Blockbuster, Best Buy, Wendy's and 20th Century films.