It seems like every day there is a new deal or gadget that stands to revolutionize the TV industry. But one thing just doesn't change: It is still women that drive the business as far as advertisers are concerned.
On broadcast TV, the shows most watched by women tend to be the most watched overall. Tops on the viewing list among adult women during the week of Jan. 23 was American Idol (Wednesday and Thursday). The rest of the top 10 shows among women were also among TV's most viewed: CSI, The Big Bang Theory, Criminal Minds, Undercover Boss, NCIS, The Good Wife, Castle and Touch.
That women are seen by advertisers as important consumers is borne out by a recent study in which half of the women surveyed said they regularly influence friends and family to buy or not buy a particular product or service. That figure was 61% higher than the 31% of women in a similar 2008 study who said they influenced purchasing decisions.
The new survey, conducted by Fleishman-Hillard and Hearst, found that younger women were more likely to feel they had an influence on purchase decisions. Millennial women were most likely to say they influenced friends and family, while seniors were least likely.
Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, says syndication's ability to reach women continues to be a strong story.
"Right now when you look at daytime, our shows have more than half the ratings," he says. "It's certainly an advantage whether you're looking at women 18-49 or moms or young women."
Syndication also has high ratings on Fridays, leading into weekend shopping trips, with higher numbers than some primetime shows. "One of the key trends in this recession is that people are only spending money when they have money in their pockets," Burg says. "So reaching them right before they make their shopping list becomes a key advantage, and that's something syndication delivers."
Cable networks aimed at women recognize this and have benefited from it. Not long ago, Lifetime was cable's top-rated network overall. So far this season it ranks No. 7 among women 25-54, behind USA, TNT, TBS, Nick at Nite, A&E and Food Network.
But Mel Berning, president for A+E Networks Ad Sales, says: "If you're a marketer, you can't have a female target and not buy Lifetime. The concentration of women in the audience is 70%." Even though ratings have been down, advertisers still want to be associated with the Lifetime brand, he says.
Berning says that when the economy was down, the number of ad dollars aimed at female targets remained relatively stable. "When the market dipped, the packaged goods, the consumer goods, health and beauty-those categories remained pretty strong."
And Berning believes Lifetime might be bouncing back, with original dramas, reality shows and made-for-TV movies all clicking.
"I think we'll be in the scatter market in a significant way," he says.
Investigation Discovery's audience is 63% women, thanks to its focus on crime and investigation programming. "It is almost a fail-safe formula for attracting women 25-54," says Henry Schleiff, president of the network.
ID rose from being the 39th-ranked cable network among women 25-54 in 2009 to No. 16 in 2011. This comes despite being in only 78 million homes, 20 million fewer than some of the network's competitors.
ID's programming has women 25-54 tuning in for 40 minutes at a clip, double the length of tune-in for the average cable network. That indicates viewers are engaged with the programming and are likely to stay engaged for the commercials, says Sharon O'Sullivan, senior VP of national advertising sales for ID.
While crime content turned off advertisers not so long ago, ID is adding sponsors. O'Sullivan says 84 advertisers signed on last year on top of a base of more than 100. "Advertisers know this is the content that their core consumer is looking for," she says.
ESPN's sports content is also appealing to more women. The network says 84% of women call themselves sports fans and that half the people who tune into ESPN each month are women. (Men tune in more often and spend more time with the network.)
Tricia Betron, senior VP, multimedia sales at ESPN, says women are catching the sports bug in college, where football is a big part of campus culture. One-third of women who watch ESPN are college graduates.
At the same time, the notion that advertisers can reach women via ESPN is resonating because "there's fewer female-only brands," Betron says.
"We're seeing a lot more adult business for products that, before, might have been female-targeted," she says, including brands in the retail, consumer product goods and weight-loss categories. "It's definitely benefiting our business."
Meanwhile, advertisers such as Nike, Gatorade and P&G's Secret and Venus brands are charter sponsors of ESPNW, a Website launched in 2010 for female athletes and fans.