CBS certain there’s gold in old

Study sez that 35-64 age group is equal to 18-34

A correction was made to this article on July 27, 2003.

Baby boomers aren’t bust.

A study released Monday by CBS ripped apart a decades-old myth that it’s the 18-49 demo that counts most. According to the Eye, it’s actually the 25-54 demo that occupies the most hallowed ground on Madison Avenue.

Study concluded the 35-64 age group is virtually equal in standing to the 18-34 age group.

Among the nets, CBS has the oldest aud — a point not lost on its competitors, or on Madison Avenue.

In terms of overall viewers, the Eye is the No. 1-rated net; but when it comes to 18-49, it is tied for third place with ABC. NBC is No. 1, followed by Fox.

Still, top media buyers said the CBS study was certainly valid, and that it hardly came as a surprise, considering baby boomers are climbing up through their 40s and 50s and nearing their 60s.

Moving up

“As more and more people enter that age bracket, marketing initiatives have to change as well to accommodate the realities they present,” Optimedia exec veep Bob Flood said. “Obviously, CBS is going to identify that attribute to their advantage.”

The Eye presented the treatise at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. Press tour in Los Angeles, calling it the largest study of its kind in TV history. It was conducted online by Insight Express, an independent company that surveyed more than 1,000 top media buyers and ad execs in regards to broadcast and cable.

In addition to finding cracks in the theory that the 18-49 group holds all the cards, study determined media buyers look well beyond age when deciding where to lay their money down. Other key factors include income, education, product usage and program content.

“The impetus is now on the media and those that cover us to correct that misperception and accurately reflect what is really at play when advertisers buy commercial television time,” CBS exec veep of research and planning David Poltrack said.

Study explained why CBS beat out ABC and Fox (which programs seven fewer hours in primetime) during this year’s primetime upfront season, bringing in more than $2.2 billion. At No. 1 was NBC, which brought in $2.9 billion. ABC brought in $1.7 billion (total does not include “Monday Night Football”) , Fox $1.6 billion.

It also explained why CBS again beat ABC and Fox when it came to primetime revs for the last quarter of 2002 and the first quarter of this year.

Of those surveyed, 58% said the aging of the viewing population will have a significant impact on media purchases, while almost two-thirds said the baby boom generation will grow to be a highly valuable target market, vs. 47% who put their bets on Generation X.

Ad positioning

Poltrack said the study wasn’t intended to debunk the economic viability of younger-skewing networks such as the WB and Fox; rather, it revealed CBS is in excellent standing among advertisers, without having to exclude older auds in favor of specifically targeting younger viewers.

Study was meant to prod TV business writers and editors to stop focusing exclusively on age and the 18-49 demo, Poltrack said. The emphasis paints a distorted economic picture of the biz, he said, as well as a distorted picture of which shows are actually performing the best among media buyers.

“Perception created by the press plays a crucial role,” Poltrack told the reporters. “Your emphasis on younger audiences does have influence. We want our true value to be reported by you.”

Other nets’ spin

Execs at other nets, meanwhile, said CBS’ pitch was predictable, and that it’s hardly the first time the Eye has touted the virtues of grabbing older audiences.

“This is their rap. They always say it,” one network exec said.

NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks also questioned the study’s findings.

“The buying community spoke loud and clear with their checkbooks in May and June,” she said.

Referring to the Peacock’s $3 billion upfront intake, she added, “They gave us three billion reasons to believe what matters most to them is adults 18-49.”

Study was released jointly by CBS and MediaPost, publishers of Media Daily News and Media Magazine. Poltrack said CBS did not pay Insight Express.

(Nicole LaPorte in New York contributed to this report.)

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