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The Elusive Ad Target

Advertisers' demand for time in African-American series is hard to satisfy, chiefly because there are fewer black-themed shows to buy.

Indeed, at the Television Critics Association meeting in Pasadena last month, Dawn Ostroff, president of entertainment for The CW, couldn't answer many questions about programming decisions for next season—except for one.

When asked about the network's Monday urban-comedy lineup—featuring Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriends, The Game and All of Us—she was emphatic. “It's safe to say the Monday-night comedy block is going to stay intact,” she said. “Our advertisers are very happy with the shows on Monday night.”

How happy?

“The demand of our Monday-night comedies is overwhelming,” says Bill Morningstar, The CW executive VP of advertising sales. He notes that advertisers for the shows come from mostly the network's mainstream, including, he says, the auto segment.

“It's unique,” he says of the Monday schedule. “We have high-quality smart programming. It's 'must-see TV' in black households. There is just a limited amount of places to get that audience.” So far this year, the network has four of the top 10 broadcast shows among black viewers 18-34: America's Next Top Model,Girlfriends, The Game and All of Us.

Indeed, the marketplace has tightened up. First, The WB and UPN merged into one network. Second, The CW devotes only one night to African-American–cast comedies. And the rare black sitcom has become rarer still since ABC's My Wife & Kids and Fox's Bernie Mac left the air.

This is a good-news/bad-news situation. “There is less diversity in television then there was three years ago,” says Keith Bowen, executive VP, advertising sales and marketing, for TV One, the three-year-old 40 million-subscriber cable network targeting African-Americans. “There are less saleable GRPs [gross ratings points] for African-American shows.”

So why doesn't The CW, for one, program a second night? Ostroff stiffened in her response to that question, answering by e-mail that, “as a broadcaster, we aim to bring a variety of disparate and successful programming to our young-adult audience.”

But the relative paucity of black programming has benefited her network, BET and TV One, all of which have seen their respective cost per thousand [CPM] rise substantially. For TV One—which skews older than BET (TV One's median age is 38 vs. BET's 22)—the network has seen ad revenue improve at virtually a 50% clip over the past couple of years. Bowen roots for The CW's continued success with programs aimed at African-Americans—since it means spillover interest for TV One.

“There is a need for it,” says Gary Carr, senior VP of national broadcast, Targetcast TRM. “There is a lot of money that goes after this audience. There is a natural group of products and not many places to [reach the audience].”

Bowen says Hispanic programming—with Univision, Telemundo, and several offshoots and competitors—represents 5% of all advertising dollars and African-American represents just 1%. With both viewer groups at about the same population level, that means there is room to grow.

“There is a need for marketers to look at this,” he says. “Even if you grow the market by 1%, everybody would win.”

All of this would help increase the profile and business attraction of some of these shows, which don't always get much press. The CW's Morningstar says the Monday ratings can be deceiving: Shows that have around a 2.0 rating among all 18-49 viewers can have a 9 or more among black TV households and viewers.

Bowen says the black TV market is set to grow among advertisers—just as Hispanic TV has. “I give the Hispanic market a lot of credit,” he says. “If you look at buying power, the African-American market is so much more affluent than the Hispanic market. The African-American market has strong brand loyalties. They support their communities. If advertisers cater to specific constituencies, they can do well.”