The efforts of global television broadcasters and other content providers to integrate digital distribution strategies in their business models has coincided with an increased emphasis on wooing the 18-34 viewer.
Although an often elusive demo for U.S. broadcasters, European counterparts such as SBS have been successful in increasing their younger demos, which they expect will initially drive digital platform penetration.
“We specifically try to get in the younger audience because if you hook them now you’ll be able to entertain them when they get older,” says Bart Soepnel, SBS’s VP of acquisitions. “How much we focus on digital distribution depends on the territory we’re in.
“For example, our channel in Norway (TVN) is fully mature, and there we (promote SBS via) the Internet, via wireless and through mobile TV. All those new media streams have just taken off, and all of us are trying to find the best way to make money.
“Clearly this is an important part of our new development strategy, but it’s not something you can copy market to market. Strategies vary among territories and are specifically targeted to what the younger audience of that particular territory wants.”
An important key, says Soepnel, is that although SBS has managed to increase younger viewership, it has done so without sacrificing the 25-55 audience.
“In general, the younger audience is more curious to play with their mobile phones and any extension of it, be it mobile TV or some other handheld device. However, age is hardly a barrier, and older groups are utilizing Internet media. It would be very stupid of us to only focus on the younger audience because, especially in western Europe, people over 50 years old are wealthier, have lots of free time and are interested in new developments. It just takes them a little longer to adapt.”
Tracy Green, executive VP of Lion Television USA, agrees that you have to look at the long-term picture.
“It’s your younger audience that’s going to make digital platforms fly, but once it becomes mainstream you’ll start getting in those older demos. Right now, however, that age group is lagging behind, and that’s why we’re targeting a younger audience.”
And that means exploring ways to reach viewers beyond the television set.
“When we greenlight a show, it has to have some kind of digital component,” Green says. “We have a show on Court TV called ‘Texas SWAT.’ For that one, you can go online and download SWAT chases that you can’t show on TV, in easy, downloadable clips. If you’re airing a gameshow, you should be able to play an easy version of it on your BlackBerry or play a version on the Web site. You should be able to buy stuff you see on the show.
“You have to be thinking like that. You can’t stick your head in the sand. You can’t just say, ‘I only make TV shows.’ That’s not going to work anymore.”
In some ways, mainstream broadcasters and content providers are simply jumping on a bandwagon already hitched to teens and tweens.
“Clearly, the younger demos are definitely driving any technological advancement and there is a windowing down of the traditional desired target demo,” observes Fernando Szew, MarVista Entertainment’s managing director.
Leila Pirnia, director of business development and strategic planning for kids TV producer DIC, adds: “(Broadcasters) capture the young audience in one platform, then translate that audience into a platform where there’s more revenue. I think that’s a very viable strategy. We’ve been doing that a while because it’s natural for our demographic.
Not everyone, however, believes the early adopters should be singled out as TV’s Holy Grail.
“They are an important demo and will remain important,” says Liberation Entertainment CEO Jay Boberg, “but I do think that there is a very serious consumption level in other age groups. For instance, we happen to own shows like ‘Peter Gunn’ and ‘The Invisible Man.’ There is a whole age group over 50 and over 55 to which these are total gems.
“Basically, you are talking about micromarketing to very particular segments of the audience that have needs you’re going to try to meet. This idea you’re going to have one-size-fits-all is getting further and further away from the truth.
“Home entertainment is starting to move from a push model, which is where you put it out there and they will buy it, to a pull model, where you have to create demand among varied microniches and then figure out efficient ways of servicing them.”