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MBPT Spotlight: Broadcast Network Summer Viewers Continue To Age Up

Despite the broadcast networks’ decision to put on more new programming this summer in an effort to keep their regular season audiences watching, it seems like many of the younger viewers have again abandoned them, leaving the 55-plus viewers to do much of the heavy summer viewing.

This summer, in season-to-date primetime, the five broadcast networks’ cumulative viewership has gotten older, with the median age audience growing to 53 from 51 for live-plus-same-day viewership.

While ABC, CBS, NBC and The CW have each had their median age average jump by two years this summer compared to the same period last summer, Fox’s median age primetime audience has jumped a whopping six years.

CBS has the oldest median age audience, as it did last summer, growing to 61. NBC’s median age audience is up to 55, ABC’s is up to 52 and The CW’s has upped to 49. Fox’s median age audience this summer is averaging 50, six years higher than last summer.

In terms of viewing percentages, this summer, the 55-plus audience on CBS has averaged 3.4 million viewers per night, making up 64% of its audience. NBC has averaged 2.5 million 55-plus viewers per night, making up 51% of its nightly audience. Meanwhile, ABC has averaged 2.3 million 55-plus viewers, comprising 45% of the network’s total nightly audience. Fox has averaged 1.1 million 55-plus viewers, which make up 34% of its nightly summer audience. And The CW is averaging 346,000 55-plus viewers, which make up 38% of its summer viewership each night.

What has caused Fox’s summer median age to rise so much higher than last summer, ironically, has been a couple of its new summer series which have drawn newer, older audiences. Drama series 24: Live Another Day, which concluded its summer run on Monday night, had a median age audience of 55, while another new drama series, Gang Related, had a median age viewer of 52. Both helped increase Fox’s median age, which was 44 last summer.

The audiences of two of Fox’s popular summer reality series also aged up a bunch compared to last summer. Masterchef had a median age audience of 44 last summer, and for the same period this summer has had a median age of 49, while So You Think You Can Dance’s median age has risen 4 years to 50 this summer.

But the summer originals are hardly the only reason for the jump. The broadcast networks’ regular season shows that are airing in repeats during the summer have aged up between two and three years when compared to the regular season.

For example, Family Guy on Fox has a median age audience of 35 this summer, up three years from its regular season median age. Arrow on The CW has a summer median age audience of 50, compared to a regular season median age of 48. The Good Wife on CBS had a regular season median age of 61 and during the summer it is up to 63. ABC’s Modern Family had a median age audience during the regular season of 48, while its summer audience median age is 50.

Super Size Them

There are some shows this summer that have seen their median ages jump even more sizably. Supernatural on The CW had a regular season median age audience of 40 and its summer median age is 46. CBS hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory had a regular season median age audience of 53 and this summer it is 56, while CBS’ Two Broke Girls rose from 52 to 56. All of those shows have a large segment of younger viewers who just tune out for the repeats during the summer.

Also, the series that are only brought back for the summer haven’t helped most networks in the median age department. ABC police drama Rookie Blue has a median age audience this summer of 60, and that’s for a show with an ensemble cast that ranges in age from 28 to 32. New ABC drama Black Box has a median age of 58, while Mistresses, back for its second summer season, has a median age audience of 54.

NBC’s new summer sitcom Night Shift, which it just renewed for another season, has a median age audience of 58.

Billie Gold, VP and director of buying/programming research at Carat, says no matter what types of new programming the networks put on during the summer months, the audiences are going to continue to get older. “Younger single people and families with children are very active during the summer, taking vacations and doing outdoor activities because it gets dark out later. They just aren’t at home to watch TV—at least not watch it live.”

Gold adds that many of the younger viewers who do watch live TV during the summer are moving over to cable. “Even with all the new series the broadcast networks have put on this summer, there is still not that much new to watch when compared to the new programming and returning series cable puts on during the summer,” she says.

On top of that, Gold says none of the new broadcast network shows this summer “have popped” for viewers. Extant started out with a solid 9.6 million viewers for its premiere episode but it also drew a sizable number of older viewers. Its 18-49 demo rating was only a 1.6, good for summer but not a good ratio for an audience of 9.6 million.

Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media says because a large number of the younger end of the millennial audience grew up in more of an online streaming environment, they tend to watch less traditional TV, particularly during the summer, and many of the ways they do watch may not be being measured.

“I think it’s more of a lifestyle thing than a life stage thing,” Adgate says. “People that are now 55-plus grew up watching TV so that’s what they’re use to. If they’re home during the summer they watch TV. Millennials may be watching on other platforms.”

Both Gold and Adgate don’t envision a scenario where the median age audience for the broadcast networks is going to not continue to get older—particularly with large numbers of baby boomers moving out of the 25-54 demo and into 55-plus each day.

This summer season to date, the broadcast networks cumulatively are averaging about 600,000 fewer 18-34 viewers than last summer, 1.3 million less 18-49 viewers and 900,000 fewer 25-54 viewers per night. And they are averaging about 500,000 more 55-plus viewers per night. And that’s not a positive median age trend.