Hirschhorn: Retirement TV's Active Programmer

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Retirement Living, a boomer-targeted cable network in 30 million homes on DirecTV, Comcast and Verizon, has, since its fall 2006 launch, aimed to be the first TV stop for the under-served over-55 set. Owned by Erickson Retirement Communities, RLTV is home to shows such as AARP: My Generation and The Florence Henderson Show, as well as commentaries from Walter Cronkite.

Last August, Charles Hirschhorn was brought in as chief creative officer, in charge of programming, production and marketing. Hirschhorn previously founded G4: Videogame TV, the cable net aimed at young males, where he served as chairman and CEO from 2000 to 2005.

Hirschhorn talks to B&C's Anne Becker about the ever-growing 55-plus set, the bandwidth challenge and why he has no plans to change the network's name.


How would you define the network's mission?

Retirement Living is trying to demonstrate the viability of the 55-plus market to cable MSOs, satellite operators and telcos, and to Madison Avenue and TV producers and syndicators. It's the biggest, fastest-growing demographic in the country and has the most disposable income. We're out there programming a network for that audience that's been basically overlooked by everyone who's been chasing 18-49 forever.


If older people have so much money, why do you think Madison Avenue shuns older demos?

I don't think they're shunned, I just think they never existed. In the next few years, 100 million people in the U.S. will be over age 55 and that's just never existed before. People are obviously living longer and living healthier, more active lives and have more disposable income than they had in the past. I think there are only two growing demographics—boomers and seniors, and Hispanics.


But certain advertisers only want that 18-49 demo, right?

There are obviously industries that have been targeting the 50-plus audience very successfully—financials, pharmaceuticals. I just think as the demographic grows and its affluence continues to grow, more segments and industries are going to target and market to this audience. We're starting to get more interest from travel, automotive, consumer electronics. We've done Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Prudential, Geico.


If you're targeting a broad audience of viewers older than 55, do you not think “Retirement Living” is a bit restrictive?

We recognize that retirement has both positive and negative connotations, but I guess we've taken the most ambitious possible position and it's sort of our hope to redefine it. We have no plans to change the name, not today.


What's your programming mission?

It's all nonfiction. There's live news and health, finance, politics, wellness, entertainment. We have an exclusive programming partnership with the AARP. We're doing a Florence Henderson talk show and a boomer dating show called Another Chance for Romance. Walter Cronkite does commentaries in Daily Café, an afternoon, two-hour lifestyle show with live news.


TV networks are all about making their brands “multi-platform.” Is that a priority for you given your audience?

Our audience is still the core television viewers. We're developing online platforms and things like that, but relative to some other networks, we're putting more emphasis on linear television. Erickson builds retirement campuses around the country and the network is on closed-circuit feed there—21 campuses around the country.


It's near impossible to get bandwidth from operators now—how is that coming?

It's a challenge, but no different than the challenge for any new network. I think we have an advantage because it's so clear who our audience is and nobody's programming to them exclusively but us.

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