Broadcasters Aim to Lower Viewer Ages

By Valerie Milano

As more broadcasters look to adopt digital platforms - that can increase much-wanted revenue streams - the hunt is on for younger viewers. As Fox has proved in the U.S., targeting the 18-to-34 demographic makes for some very good business. Not only will advertisers pay higher CPMs (cost-per-thousand viewers) to reach that elusive demo, but younger viewers are also more apt to be tech-savvy and willing to embrace new platforms, such as VoD and Apple's iPod.

Stephen J Davis
Albert Chang of Disney-ABC
Television Group

It seems as though the broadcasters are catching on to something that independent producers have known for a while.

DIC's Andy Heyward believes, "Kids are always the first adaptors of new technology and the telephone is the new frontier right now, just the way the computer and video games were a couple years ago."

Of course, independents like DIC Entertainment are more agile than the larger groups and broadcasters, and can embrace trends more quickly. Not only does DIC employ young execs to oversee their digital strategies, they are just as receptive to young, inexperienced producers and creators as they are to those with years of experience.

"We look at the product and the technology that is along side it [when it comes to choosing whether or not to distribute a particular show]" said Andy Heyward.

Research seems to back up Heyward's assessment. According to Cyriac Roeding, CBS Digital Media vp of Wireless, "More than 50 percent of the audience between 25 and 34 years of age has their cell phone with them always or almost always, meaning more than 90 percent of the time while they're watching TV.

"People have been talking about ITV [Internet TV] for so many years. The reality is, ITV is here today, you just use this [cell phone] tool because it's got a keyboard built in and it's got a wallet built in. You can actually charge consumers for downloads because you pay through your cell phone bill so there is a huge opportunity to combine the television screen with the cell phone," Roeding said. "And we find the 18-to-24 target group is 64 percent of the audience. So there is a huge opportunity to combine not only other platforms as a stand-alone instrument, but also a combination between the TV screen and the new devices at the same time."

One of the biggest generational differences is the willingness to use small screens. Albert Chang, executive vice president, Digital Media, Disney-ABC Television Group, said, "Adults typically want a bigger screen. But for younger people, the screen size doesn't matter that much. And when you look at the demographic of the iPod user, it tends to skew younger - anywhere between 15 and 29."

E! Online CEO Ted Harbert observed that as time goes on, the differences between the demos become more pronounced. "There have always been differences between the 18-to-34 and 35-to-49 demographics; now it's almost as if there are no similarities at all. The change in the younger demo is enormous - they process information differently than my generation does.

"It used to be that you could expect that as young people got older they would fall into the same habits that their parents did. Well, that's not happening, and I think it's because of all that they have grown up with," Harbert said. Not only did [younger people] grow up with non-linear programming on MTV, they grew up with so many choices that the way they appreciate storytelling is different."

John Skipper, ESPN's evp of Content, said signs that the audience is changing are everywhere, with consumers now willing to use devices that give them the freedom of portability, so they can watch what they want, when they want it. "For a lot of people in my generation, our first reaction is: 'Nobody is going to watch stuff on that [small] screen'. But, I sat on a plane . . . and the woman across the aisle from me was watching her iPod, and she watched it all the way out here. If you look at the resolution on these screens, it is remarkable. There are a couple of services that are doing streaming networks right now. And if you go to Korea or you go to parts of Europe, they are watching television on their phone. And it's going to happen here as well."

And it is because younger audiences are much more comfortable with downloading and streaming programming that the networks are feverishly working to monetize those two areas.

"We are in the course of developing a soap opera which is, from day one, designed to be on the cell phone as the main platform," said CBS' Roeding. "And the whole story is actually created so that it would only work on a cell phone. But the television platform will be the way to launch it.

"So, again, there is this interconnection between the various platforms. When that becomes true - when the next generation of content is developed - we'll have to think in a totally different way."

But it may take a while. Even though entertainment history teaches us that those who wait too long to embrace new technology get left behind, the U.S. broadcast networks have not been quick to integrate digital strategies until very recently.

While cable, sports and kids' networks, especially, are aggressively pursuing new business models, broadcasters' mindsets are reflected by Fox Entertainment president Peter Liguori's philosophy of caution: "I'm a marketing guy by way of background, and . . . I almost look at what happened way back in the beer-and-soda wars. Pepsi and Miller spent a lot of money defining a category, the diet cola craze, and the light beer craze, and basically Bud and Coke held back and said we're just going to talk about taste. They let the competitors define what the game was and then they went in and stayed with their strategy."

Liguori stressed that it's all about a content strategy. "We want to make sure we're putting the best content forward. If in fact we have the best content, we're going to be able to take advantage of all the other distribution sources. So it's a little bit more of a measured approach."

While the networks remain the motherships, the new digital platforms offer broadcasters the perfect promotional avenue to reach younger demos. "We believe in it," stressed Disney-ABC's Chang. "It actually drives more traffic to our network shows. We've seen that with things that we've done already with the Apple iTunes product for Desperate Housewives and Lost. It has not taken away viewers at all from our shows, but actually drove and increased our viewership.

"Television is still the primary vehicle by which people will consume the entertainment. A lot of these things that we talk about - Internet, wireless - are growing very quickly. And they're becoming viable distribution channels. But for the most part, the majority of people will still be consuming their television through [traditional] TV." Although, Chang conceded, "That may differ between generations. We find younger people actually looking at video through Internet."

Knowing how younger viewers are consuming their media helps networks develop targeted advertising. David Katz, Yahoo!'s head of Sports & Entertainment, noted, "If you're a marketer, you need to be where the eyeballs are. And that goes for network television programmers as well as any other product or service that you're trying to get out there. And clearly, there is a shift of usage and time spent moving to the Internet. And if you're trying to market your programs, you absolutely need to be on these other devices and platforms in order to get your message in front of young folks."

Once that happens, Katz said, "The Internet is going to be a great promotional platform for all of these shows and ultimately help enhance loyalty and drive people back to the shows. I think it will help network television."

In the end, said Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group president Kevin Tsujihara, Hollywood has two choices in regards to how they approach digital platforms. "I could stick my head in the sand and make it go as slow as possible. Or I can try to transition people and move them from physical to digital as fast as possible. There are a lot of efficiencies from my perspective in the latter approach and a lot of costs that are reduced. I have to look towards the long-term versus looking at what my next quarter is going to be. If we only look at one piece of the puzzle, we will never optimize the whole."

The Flip-Flop Crowd Hits the Corporate Suites

Studios and networks are courting a younger demo - for their corporate offices. As traditional media is poised to undergo dramatic changes and digital distribution platforms evolve and mature, and old school executives will increasingly become relics of the analog-dominated past.

The next generation of television executives is already making their presence felt as they help lead the television industry into the digital Promised Land. What sets them apart is that they grew up children of the information age, not remembering a time when people wrote letters, not e-mails; when the telex machine was the only way to get text across countries; and when the television universe had less than a dozen channels - half of them UHF.

The young executives now populating markets such as MIP are not just former early-adopters; they are "digital natives," a term coined in 2001 by technology consultant and writer Marc Prensky. Digital natives spend their formative years communicating via e-mail and instant messages, get their news from MTV, and have made video gaming the most lucrative entertainment form in the world. Prensky postulated that digital exposure literally changed the way this generation is wired - making these digital natives perfectly suited to confront the challenges poised by traditional media's slow, often painful transition from linear to digital distribution business models.

Part of the challenge is that, according to Prensky, people in their 40s are "digital immigrants, because they can never be as fluent in technology as a native who was born into it. You can see it in the digital immigrants' accents - whether it is printing out emails or typing with fingers rather than thumbs. Have you ever noticed that digital natives, unlike digital immigrants, don't talk about 'information overload'? Rather, they crave more information."

Because they grew up at the dawn of the information age, digital natives had practically unlimited access to new media and, thus, developed an appetite for non-linear entertainment and a willingness to interact with their media platforms of choice rather than be passively entertained.

More to the point, digital natives see technology as their friend.

Another characteristic that distinguishes these "digital natives," from older executives, is that they can operate any digital devise by instinct; without even opening the usually imposing 200-page instructional manual.

Prensky wrote, "This generation is better than any before at absorbing information and making decisions quickly, as well as at multitasking and parallel processing. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Today's average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV)."All of which (though somewhat frightening for mankind) will prove invaluable to the networks and studios over the next decade, when digital media is expected to become the norm.