Big Game: Finding Male Viewers Beyond Sports

Networks and brands are finding many options to attract men in an expanded programming universe
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Sports may be the undisputed king of the male-viewing realm, but it’s shortsighted to think that’s the only thing men are watching.

“Men today care about more than just live sports,” says Dan Cohn, who runs the MillerCoors account as client director of investments for Initiative. Just as male beer palates have evolved over time, he says, so too have men’s TV show preferences.

Coors Light advertised on FX’s freshman vampire drama The Strain, which ranked as the 12th-most-watched cable show, on average, among men 18-34 in 2014 through its first five episodes, according to Nielsen. Blue Moon commercials can be seen during AMC’s The Walking Dead, whose more than 18.4 million average viewers during its recent fourth season made it the third-most-watched show of the 2013-14 broadcast season. The zombie drama’s fifth season was set to kick off Oct. 12 as a major draw for advertisers. Last season, it was the second-most-watched show by males, who accounted for more than 55% of its audience, trailing only CBS juggernaut The Big Bang Theory, whose audience is only 46% male.

David Poltrack, chief research officer of CBS Corp., has said that men gravitate to content similar to sports, be it action, adventure, competitions or reality shows. That’s the fare on which Spike was founded and which newer competitors have pursued.

Spike has solidified what Thomas Grayman, network senior director of brand and consumer research, calls the “traditional male solo viewer,” who watches shows with a heavy dose of action, sex and/or violence in a female-free environment either alone or with his buddies. In fact, the violence has even permeated through to the titles of Spike shows, among them The Kill Point, Deadliest Warrior and Murder.

“We got to the point where we’ve successfully super-served that male audience,” Grayman says. “We felt it was time to expand to a broader audience.”

In the process of widening its appeal, Spike is going after a subset of male viewers drawn to edgy shows—with identifiable characters and meaningful stakes—which they feel comfortable watching with female partners (another new type of viewer Spike is looking to reach). In a survey of adults 18-49, Spike found that men are more interested than women in programming that demonstrates ways to be successful. As such, the network is now offering advertisers viewers who are “psychologically geared toward a positive end result in entertainment,” Grayman says.

Through August, the network was averaging its highest viewership numbers since 2011. Grayman says that Spike’s gradual recalibration could become an official network brand positioning next year.

“I feel like television is at a point now where there are lots of different options for different types of male viewers for Spike to continue to collect, to retain a loyal male audience,” Grayman says.

Nevertheless, broadcast execs and other sports rights holders do not see men turning off their games any time soon. Despite a mushrooming series of off-field controversies, the NFL has successfully launched a third night (Thursday) of broadcast programming. College conference networks are proliferating, the Major League Baseball playoffs have gotten off to a record-setting start, and the NBA is riding a wave of positive momentum.

Even so, an array of non-sports programming geared toward them is giving men more options. “The male audience is no longer underserved in a way it maybe once was seven to 10 years ago,” Grayman says.

HISTORY’S MAGIC FORMULA: ALL IN THE PLANNING

The History Channel turned the Sept. 1 premiere of Houdini into a special event.

Starring Oscar-winner Adrien Brody—a big name for viewers and advertisers alike—the miniseries debuted to 3.7 million, but planning on the ad side had begun 12-15 months earlier when the network sat down with potential sponsors and came up with custom ads from brands such as Capital One, Chrysler and Geico, all around the theme of magic.

“The viewer is actually more engaged on these custom commercials,” says David DeSocio, senior VP of ad sales partnerships for A+E Networks. “They have a better feeling about the brand and are more likely to convert to purchase behavior.”

Dirk Hoogstra, History executive VP and general manager, says that the male-skewing network is the kind of strong brand with which advertisers want to be associated. “You can reach the same viewer on History for a fraction of the cost of buying an NFL spot,” Hoogstra says.

Sports may be the undisputed king of the male-viewing realm, but it’s shortsighted to think that’s the only thing men are watching.

“Men today care about more than just live sports,” says Dan Cohn, who runs the MillerCoors account as client director of investments for Initiative. Just as male beer palates have evolved over time, he says, so too have men’s TV show preferences.

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