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MBPT Spotlight: Summertime on Broadcast TV -- When Viewership Declines and Median Age Rises

For the broadcast networks, summer ratings are like a microcosm of a local neighborhood: the kids are outside playing during the longer days, while the adults are inside happily controlling the remote.

It happens, as they say, every summer; that’s when viewership on the broadcast networks declines significantly, and the median age audiences of repeat episodes on those networks conversely edge up.

The average increase in median age for most of the broadcast series airing in repeats during the summer is about two years, although some series see their median number age up as much as eight or nine years.

Not even broadcast’s most watched regular season series are immune to a bump of two or three years in their median age audiences during the hotter months.

Television’s most watched comedy, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, which is still drawing a sizable 8.4 million viewers each week during summer repeats, has seen its median age audience rise from 51.5 years old during the regular season to 55.2 during the summer. These numbers are according to Nielsen research, looking at the summer season to date, from the end of the regular season on May 23 through the end of July.

TV’s most watched drama, CBS’ NCIS, which is averaging a similar 8.4 million viewers this summer, has seen its audience age up a little more than two years to 62.7 from 60.1.

Even NBC’s hit singing competition, The Voice, which aired several of its final regular season episodes into June, saw its median age rise from 48.1 during the regular season to an AARP-certified 52.5 for its final four episodes in late May and early June. The Voice, however, grew its audience a bit, averaging 12.3 million viewers for its twice-a-week episodes, compared to 12.1 million viewers during the regular season. Those summer episodes, of course, were all first-run and included the season finale.

The two series that have shown the largest increase in median age this summer are NBC’s sitcoms The Office, which ended its long run on the network last season and will not be back in the fall, and Parks and Recreation. Both of those series this summer are drawing median-age audiences of about 48, compared to a median age of 39 during this past regular season.

The Reason of Age

While it’s out of the norm for broadcast network series in summer repeats to see declines in their median-age audiences, there are two series that are doing it, and one is doing it in a sizable way.

The CW drama Nikita, which had a median age audience of 51.1 during the recent regular season, has been drawing a median age of 45.4 in repeats.

The other series showing a lower median-age audience this summer by a little more than a year is the ABC drama, Castle. The series during the regular season had a median-age audience of 59.2 and this summer it is down to 57.9.

Just about all the other regular season series airing this summer in repeats have audiences with median ages that range from one to five years higher, with the bulk of them averaging a year or two.

On ABC, hit comedy Modern Family, which had a median-age audience of 47 during the regular season, has a median-age audience of 51.9 this summer. Other shows seeing median-age increases on ABC are sitcoms The Middle, from 51.7 to 55.8, and Suburgatory, from 48.3 to 54.6.

Fox for the summer has moved three of its returning sitcoms — Raising Hope, New Girl and The Mindy Project — to Monday nights in repeats. Raising Hope’s median age has risen to 43.9 from 41.8; New Girl’s has increased to 39.7 from 35.4, while The Mindy Project’s median age has jumped to 39.7 from 36.2.

Two CW dramas, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries have both had sizable increases in median-age audience. Supernatural has seen it jump from 41.7 to 47.2, while The Vampire Diaries median age has increased from 34.9 to 42.3.

CBS airs the largest number of its regular season scripted series of any broadcast network. In addition to Big Bang and NCIS, there are several CBS series that have shown between two- and six-year increases in their median-age audiences for summer compared to the regular season.

CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother posted a 47.5 median age during the regular season, but its summer median age is 53.3. Sitcom 2 Broke Girls had a median-age audience of 50.4, which has grown to 54.6. Comedies Two and a Half Men and Mike & Molly both had median-age audiences of about 52 years old during the season, but both have seen their audiences rise to a median age of about 55. The median age of drama Hawaii Five-0 has grown this summer to 58.9 from 56.1 during the regular season.

NBC is airing lots of new programming this summer, both scripted and reality, so there are fewer comparisons to make.

The median-age audiences for two summer-only hit series - NBC’s America’s Got Talent and CBS’ Big Brother - are both up from last summer. Combining the audiences of all three weekly telecasts of America’s Got Talent, the series this summer to date has been watched by a median-age viewer of 54. That is up a little more than two years from last summer’s median age at this point of 51.7. Big Brother’s median age for its three weekly episodes is 48.6, up from 47.9 last summer at this point.

ABC's The Bachelorette, which just completed its summer run, posted a median age of 53, up from about 51.3 last summer.

The scripted series with the oldest summer median-age audience is CBS drama Blue Bloods at 63.3, followed by CBS dramas NCIS and The Good Wife at 62.7. The youngest summer series audience is pretty much a tie between Fox’s three Sunday animation comedies American Dad, Family Guy and The Simpsons, each with a median age of 32.

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