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Fighting for the 18-34 crowd

Cable networks targeting young women in primetime's final hour

Screaming matches over boyfriends. Bitchy mothers. Tables turned over in restaurants. As it turns out, femme dysfunction is pure gold.

In the last few months, Oxygen (whose fourth season of “The Bad Girls Club” was its highest-rated to date) and E! (where “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” achieved highs in its fourth season as well) have seen significant spikes among women under 35 that enabled them to shoot up the first-quarter cable rankings.

Both shows air at 10 p.m., when broadcast rivals tend to draw in an older audience with their typical cop and medical shows and younger-skewing nets Fox and CW are off the air.

In the case of “Kardashians,” in which original episodes air on Sundays, the ladies are up against female-skewing ABC drama “Brothers & Sisters,” which is down 15% in the demo this season. And Oxygen’s firstrun episodes of “Bad Girls Club” air on Tuesdays, where the top broadcast program, CBS rookie drama “The Good Wife,” excels among women 35-plus.

“I don’t know where (these women) were before, but when you have engaging and entertaining programming, they show up,” says Oxygen g.m. Jason Klarman. “When you’re defining a brand, we want to be the twentysomething network. As advertisers become more targeted, it’s about fishing where the fish are.

“We’re the net that goes after trenders, spenders and recommenders.”

And Lisa Berger, exec VP of entertainment programming at E!, adds: “Women 18-34 are a fickle audience that can jump around from show to show, but they’re coveted, and once they find something they like, they stick around if you feed the machine to keep them there.”

Women in their teens and 20s are often at the forefront of social networking, and by communicating with each other on Facebook and Twitter, they can instantaneously recommend popular shows to one another and help drive up the audience.

MTV, currently ranked No. 1 in women 18-34, has seen its numbers rise not due to women brawling with one another, but, rather, getting knocked up. “Teen Mom,” “16 and Pregnant” and “Jersey Shore” are the top three shows, respectively, in the demo.

While the 18-49 demo is still the most the most desirable — and profitable — for the major broadcast nets and a majority of cablers, reaching the 18-34 is still important, especially for nets such as Oxygen and MTV that already have older siblings to cater to the 18-49. They can afford, and are even encouraged, to go after the more specific and hard to reach niche.

“When a show does target that 18-34 audience, those viewers are actually easier to reach because competitors are targeting women 35-49,” says Steve Sternberg, an ad buyer for Magna Global.

While networks often see the ratings benefits of programs where characters engage in controversial behavior, the decision to air those shows isn’t always an easy one. That’s a constant source of discussion among those in the executive suites all across the cable landscape.

E! went forward with “Pretty Wild,” despite the fact that Alexis Neiers was arrested on suspicion of breaking into the homes of several celebrities, including Orlando Bloom. Some parents who thought the show gave credence to Neiers’ actions were vocal about not letting their teenage daughters watch the skein.

“We’re showing all forms of Hollywood. We’re not condoning it,” says Berger. “I’m a mother and as long as you show the blemishes, than I really believe that’s OK. If you watch the episodes, you’ll see there are consequences for the actions. What I can say is that having the camera capturing all of that could be a great lesson.”

MTV took a lot of PR hits over the materialism and vapidity of the characters from “Jersey Shore” — gym, tan and laundry have become a national catchphrase — but the show was a ratings smash and season two is set to go into production in Miami, far south of the Garden State.

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