The CW was only founded 16 years ago, and throughout that short life, it’s been known as both the youngest broadcaster and the broadcaster with the youngest audience. That’s why when Nexstar COO and president Tom Carter stated during a conference call Monday that the average viewer of the network, which is being acquired by the TV station group giant, is 58 years old, the internet had a hard time swallowing the stat.
How is it possible that the average viewer of the home of YA-centric content like “Riverdale,” “All American,” “Walker” and “The Flash” is in their late 50s?
But as Variety has independently confirmed with measurements from Nielsen, the Nexstar exec was correct: the median age for the CW’s primetime viewer throughout the 2021 calendar year was 57.4, according to Live + 7 Day data. That counts initial linear viewership and a week’s worth of delayed (mostly DVR) viewing where available.
When looking at total day numbers, which includes not just broadcast primetime content, but everything viewed on a network outside of the primetime window as well, the CW’s average viewer ages up to 58.4. And those numbers make the CW audience not just older than some expected, but also no longer the broadcast network with the youngest audience.
Surprisingly, that title goes to Fox, which in the year of 2021 had a broadcast primetime median age of 56.6 and a total day median age of 56.2 based on Live + 7 data.
More recent data also points to Fox having the youngest audience. Per Nielsen, between Sept. 20, 2021 and Aug. 14, 2022, the network’s average primetime viewer was 57.3 years old according to Live + Same Day data, measuring all viewers of primetime content on the first day that it aired, and 57.4 according to Live + 7s. During that same window of time, the CW’s viewers were slightly older: the average primetime viewer each day was 60.8 years old, while delayed viewing brought about a Live + 7 average of 59.5.
According to the most recent data available, CBS, NBC and ABC all trend older than Fox and the CW. NBC is the next youngest behind the CW in L+SD at 61.1, followed by ABC at 61.4 and CBS at 66.1. In L+7s, NBC and ABC tie with a median age of 61.2, and CBS skews oldest at 65.5.
See the chart below for primetime and total day medians for the year of 2021 alone, which indicate the same order: Fox, the CW, NBC, ABC and then CBS, from youngest to oldest.
But this information only looks at linear viewers, which have skewed older and older across broadcast (which has long targeted the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demo) in recent years amid a rise in cord-cutting. That’s not telling the whole story, namely omitting the audience that is consuming these networks’ content on streaming platforms.
Despite losing its assumed status as having the youngest broadcast audience, it’s still safe to say that the CW has the youngest average viewer in the pack when it comes to streaming. The plethora of teen dramas and superhero fare at the CW are known to be consumed by a streaming audience largely in their late 20s and early 30s. While independently verified streaming data on CW series is not available, paying attention to the difference between Live + Same Day numbers and Live + 7s in linear viewing supports the perception of a younger audience when it comes to different ways of viewing this content.
Even though Fox has a lower number in both categories, Fox’s Live + 7 median age between last September and this August is higher than its Live + Same Day — which indicates that primetime content from Fox draws in that older audience in delayed viewing. By contrast, the CW’s 59.5-year-old average viewer in L+7s vs. 60.8-year-old average in L+SD shows that millennial broadcast viewers are unsurprisingly tuning into their DVRs more often than live viewing.
Like Fox, NBC’s audience also got older with delayed viewing. ABC and CBS’ audience got younger with delayed viewing, by 0.2 and 0.6 years, respectively. But those are significantly smaller discrepancies than the 1.3 years separating the CW’s live viewers from its delayed viewers, making the CW the youngster in at least that grouping, thanks to a procrastinating “Riverdale” audience.