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There Are More To Ratings Than Demos ... Seriously

Television attracts people younger than 18 and older than 49, too

You know, I really dread the day -- approximately 13 years from now -- when I am no longer considered important by television.

Or should I say, by many writers (especially online) who write about television.

But based on the number of times I find myself writing about this every year, I'm sure I will be talking about the importance (or lack of importance) the "key" audience demographics of adults 18 to 49 have on overall fates of television shows at least 25 more times ... and still, it will be like shouting into the wind.

If you go to websites outside of Inside Blip (and even Zap2it), you will hear television ratings only from the perspective of this so-called primary age group. Why is that? Because networks can typically charge a premium on advertising that attracts adults 18 to 49, because advertisers see these people as the ones with the most disposable income (and the one most influenced by commercials they see on television).

Because of that, many people who write about ratings talk only about that audience, and they leave everyone else behind. Even worse, that talk sometimes shrinks to adults 18 to 24, or even males 18 to 24, shrinking the overall audience even more.

But there is more to television than just these demos. Recently, someone questioned a number we supplied for the Fox series "Fringe." It had earned a 2.4 household rating, but they thought I was experimenting with some recreational drugs, because everywhere they read, "Fringe" earned only a 0.9 household rating. But yet, I was right (and so were the places they read about 0.9) ... but how?

It's because that 0.9 represents only adults 18 to 49. For "Fringe," it's roughly 1 million households -- it doesn't sound like a lot. But a 2.4 is well more than double that ... yet we should ignore it?

If we were to go by the demo alone, we would only be talking about 35 percent of "Fringe's" audience. How on Earth could we do that and ignore the other 65 percent? Even if Fox charged a premium for that demo, could it really be more important than the standard advertising prices Fox could sell the remaining 65 percent for?

Even more, not all shows (and not all networks) cater to that demographic. More often than not in the past few months, I have heard nothing but implications and outright declarations that NBC is going to cancel "Harry's Law," a court dramedy starring Kathy Bates. This is judged by the coveted 18-to-49 demo, which is low compared to its lead-out show, "Celebrity Apprentice." Yet, what part of "Harry's Law" is meant to attract that demographic? Is it Kathy Bates, whose career is based on pure talent (not necessarily sex appeal), who is now in her 60s? Maybe it's Christopher McDonald, who plays Tommy Jefferson, who just turned 57 in February?

Sure, there are some younger people on the show like Nathan Corddry and Karen Olivo, but this is not a show designed to keep college students glued to the television on Sunday nights. And when you take it out of this demo discussion and talk about the full audience, you are suddenly talking about NBC's No. 1 scripted program. Yeah, that's right ... not even "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" has a bigger audience than "Harry's Law." So how can we be talking about the death of that show, unless the price tag to make it is so unbelievably high that it would have to pull "Dancing With the Stars" numbers just to survive?

I am not just pulling this out of my extremes, either. The No. 1 network on television right now is CBS, and whether the network is on top, or struggling at the very bottom like where NBC is now, network head Les Moonves has always been consistent about his views on this so-called coveted demo.

"As I've always said, even when we were in desperate last place, just basing the world on 18-to-49 is an untrue measure," Moonves said last November, according to Examiner.com. "We don't sell our schedule solely to 18-to-49. We sell it all sorts of different ways."

Moonves says the average age of a "60 Minutes" viewer is 63. People my age (36) aren't watching the show, nor does CBS expect me to.

"I think the Baby Boomers have gotten bigger, they've gotten older, [and] I think our attitude is always ... a big hit it watched by everybody, even the big 18-to-49-year-olds," Moonves said. "'American Idol' is not only watched by 18-to-49, it's watched by 80-year-olds and it's watched by 15-year-olds, it's watched by everybody.

"So the idea of programming just for a niche audience by a broadcaster is silly."

And if you wanted to extend that idea, writing about shows only from the perspective of that niche audience is silly, too. Which is why we don't do it.

Do demos play a role in deciding the fate of shows? Sure, they do. But it's used typically more as a tiebreaker -- the variable in a mostly balanced equation where a network executive is on the fence about whether to continue a show or not. That doesn't happen with every single show, or even a majority of shows. But it does happen.

For me, the world is much larger than those between 18 and 49, even if I'm still among that age group. And we will always focus on everyone in the audience, not just the members of a single group. Otherwise, as you can see with "Fringe," we're talking about just 35 percent of the audience, and treating the other 65 percent -- the majority -- like they're no one.

And I think Harry Korn would have something to say about that.

About the Author

Michael Hinman is the founder and editor-in-chief for Airlock Alpha and the entire GenreNexus. He owns Nexus Media Group Inc., the parent corporation of the GenreNexus and is a veteran print journalist. He lives in Tampa, Fla.
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