Execs take upfront approach to woo key demo

With the young male demo still MIA, the broadcast nets will parade a number of testosterone-tinged pilots when strutting their stuff to Madison Ave. during the upfront ad buy market in May.

It’s a counter-measure they are deploying as the chaotic 2003-2004 season, characterized by the disturbing dropoff of male viewers aged 18-34, comes to an end.

Web execs have spent a lot of energy attributing the falloff to Nielsen’s new ratings methodology, but it’s crystal clear that the nets failed to excite young men with their new offerings last fall.

The decline in viewership in this key demo is one element that advertisers could use as leverage against the nets, which will again be seeking more bucks for their bangs. (Advertisers may also cite the rising use of personal video recorders and the fact that the primetime season overall was a bust as reasons not to pay more.)

Media buyers want to see signs that the nets can bring young men back to their sets. “You need to address this. The 18-34 part of the 18-49 demo is getting bigger and bigger,” one said.

NBC, for one, is eyeing young men again after several years of development focused on femmes.

Pilots in play at the Peacock include “Transylvania,” a western with horror elements, and apocalyptic thriller “Revelations.” Laffers include an American take on male-dominated Britcom “The Office” and the tellingly titled “Men’s Room,” featuring men in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

If it’s to remain on top in the key 18-49 demo, the Peacock can’t lean so heavily on women.

“I don’t think you will see as many shows called ‘Karen Sicco,’ ‘Joan of Arcadia’ and ‘Miss Match.’ There is a sense that you have to be a little broader in your development,” NBC topper Jeff Zucker says. “We made a mistake. You can’t cut off half the audience.”

Over at Fox, which has made strides across every demo with “American Idol,” finding compatible skedmates is key.

“If advertisers are looking for men 18-34, Fox is still far and away the most attractive net to buy, even with the problems,” one exec said.

In addition to returning male-friendly shows such as “The Simpsons” and “24,” the net has already picked up an untitled comedy featuring rappers Method Man and Redman and ordered pilots for a Chris Rock comedy, toon comedy “American Dad” and a drama starring Franky G as an ex-con trying to go legit.

Vanishing male viewers or not, webheads are insisting the dropoff won’t result in a financial body-blow. This season will likely end with total viewership and the adult 18-49 demo not too far off the finish of last season.

Still, if nets can’t guarantee the previous number of younger male viewers, they could have to lower rates for advertisers buying this piece of the pie.

Tough to reach

Young adults, especially men, continue to be the most difficult segment of the viewing population to reach. According to Nielsen ratings through mid-March, the six broadcast nets had lost 15% of their men 18-34 aud compared to the same weeks last season.

Every broadcaster is down, with laggards ABC and the WB losing almost one-quarter of their audience.

The 15% dropoff among men 18-34 contrasts with a more modest 6% year-to-year decline among women of the same age. The Big Six are holding up much better among men in older age brackets.

While men 18-34 are important, they still account for roughly only one in four viewers in the lucrative adults 18-49 demo. However, young men are a priority target for movie studios and top-drawer advertisers like Ford trucks, Budweiser and McDonald’s.

Media buyers at the agencies say the nets are engaging in something akin to doublespeak when it comes to the missing men by pinning the blame solely on Nielsen.

Though they won’t admit it, the networks have all implicitly recognized it is the programming that get the viewers and it is the programs that drives the viewers away, says Magna Global USA senior VP Steve Sternberg, who is also director of audience analysis.

  • CBS has been least impacted by the dropoff in men 18-34, but it too has picked up pilots potentially pleasing to young male auds, including “Clubhouse,” about a Yankees batboy, and an untitled project about a bounty hunter working with his sons.

  • ABC has picked up a number of female-themed pilots, believing this aud is under-served, but also has “Savage,” featuring a blue-collar man and his teenage sons, and male workplace laffer “Thank God It’s Monday” in the mix.

On the drama side, Alphabet is considering “Countdown,” which tracks a SWAT team during the last 43 minutes of a crisis, and “Doing It,” a dark look at teen boys in Seattle.

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