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Peacock, Frog must aim young

CBS remains oldest-skewing b'caster during 2004-05 season

NBC and the WB, both coming off tough seasons, will look to rebound in the fall by adding younger viewers.

These nets have seen their median ages rise in the past couple of years as they’ve been unable to replace aging hits with new successes. Sure, they’re losing viewers of all ages, but they’re shedding advertiser-friendly younger viewers at a faster clip.

Overall, according to a report by Magna Global based on data from Nielsen, top-rated CBS remained the oldest-skewing broadcaster during the 2004-05 season, with a median age of 51.8 (down from 52.9 a year ago) but NBC is gaining on them at a record-high 48.0 (up from 45.9).

ABC is stable at 45.3, followed by Fox (38.2), the WB (35, an all-time high) and UPN (32.9), which is the youngest broadcaster for the first time.

NBC’s older skew is due to the loss of “Friends,” its youngest show, but also because of sizable ratings declines for hits like “Will & Grace,” “The Apprentice” and “Fear Factor.”

Net’s decision to not go forward with the fourth “Law & Order” series (“Trial by Jury” was canceled after half a season) was at least partly motivated by a desire to get younger. At 53.8, “TBJ” was the net’s oldest scripted series.

It’s also worth noting that the new shows that struggled for NBC last season were among its youngest-skewing (“Father of the Pride” and “The Contender”) suggesting that it could be an uphill fight for the net to reach new, young viewers.

CBS can afford to remain slightly above 50 as long as it’s so dominant in total viewers — winning last season by the largest margin for any net in 16 years. Half of the Eye viewership may be 52 years or older, but the younger half of its audience is now so big that CBS is the net to beat in the prized 18-49 demo.

The WB’s gradual aging is the result of losing one-third of its teen aud over the past three years. Net still possesses key series with median ages under 35 (“Smallville,” “Gilmore Girls” and “One Tree Hill”) but it also has some relative oldsters like “7th Heaven” (39.5) and “Everwood” (42.4).

Some other tidbits gleaned from the Magna Global data:

  •  A key indicator of a show that’s on the downswing is if its median age has grown for three consecutive years. This means that while its core aud aged, the program was unable to recruit new viewers.

    Such shows heading into the 2005-06 season are “Fear Factor” (40), “Law & Order” (52.3) and “West Wing” (53) on NBC; “7th Heaven” and “Reba” (40) on the WB; and “Survivor” (44.7) on CBS.

  •   CBS comedies like “Everybody Loves Raymond” (50.4) and “King of Queens” (47.2) look spry in syndication, where they’re surrounded by younger shows. Syndie “Raymond” comes in at 44, syndie “King” at about 39.

  •   Fox, like NBC and the WB, is at its oldest median age ever — but this is not a liability. The Murdoch net continues to easily stand as the top-rated net in viewers 12-34, so a slightly older skew is actually advantageous.

    Contributing to the aging is “American Idol” (38.6), which remains powerful among young adults but is adding more 50-plus viewers with each season. Also, one of the shows to emerge a hit behind the music phenomenon, “House,” is now the net’s oldest show (44.6).

  •   The WB’s two most successful comedies of the past few years have vastly different audience profiles, with “Reba” at a median age of 40.0 and “What I Like About You” at 31.2. This has made it tough to find a hit show that fits between the two, something “Twins” will try to accomplish this fall.

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