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Men and Women

Despite narrowing Tech Gender Gap, Viewer Differences Persist

As new technology goes mainstream, consumer research shows that the digital divide between gadget-crazed guys and techno-phobic gals has, if not entirely disappeared, become increasingly misleading.

“Contrary to some widely held stereotypes, women use new technologies at very significant levels,” Rainbow Media Holdings president and CEO Josh Sapan said.

Lisa Gersh, president of Oxygen agrees. Oxygen’s “Girl’s Gone Wired” study released earlier this year found very little difference in usage of some key technologies. About 73% of all women and 71% of all men used a computer each week; 62% of all women and 61% of all men used a cell phone.

Overall, women lagged only slightly behind men in the time they spent “interfacing with technology,” logging 15 hours each week versus 17 hours for men. Both sexes were spending 10-plus hours watching programs stored on a digital video recorder.

Single women were also spending a significant amount of time watching video on i­Pods, about 8.5 hours a week, the study found. More than 1 million Oxy­gen programs have been downloaded from Apple Computer’s iTunes store, Gersh added.

“When we asked women whether they’d rather have a little black dress or a plasma TV, 77% chose the plasma TV,” Gersh said. “A significant majority would take an iPod over a diamond necklace.”

Having a techno-savvy female audience, Gersh added, is very important for their future as advertisers seek to reach audiences on newer platforms. “The movement of video from TV to other platforms we view as a major opportunity and advantage for us.”

That isn’t to say there aren’t some differences between men and women. The Horowitz Associates “State of Digital and Interactive TV 2006” study found that men and women used video on demand and DVRs at very similar rates. But men were four times more likely to play games on TV.

Men were also more likely to watch HDTV programming — 16% versus 11% for women — and download video from the Internet, with 15% of all men and 11% of all women accessing broadband video, according to Howard Horowitz, president of Horowitz Associates.

That helps explain the customer base of some subscription broadband video and download services. While CNN has only slightly more male viewers and users of CNN.com are pretty evenly split between men and women, premium broadband video offering CNN Pipeline “is heavily skewed male,” CNN.com senior vice president and general manager David Payne said.

Likewise, subscribers to Starz LLC’s Vongo download service also skew male even though it features over 2,500 titles that aren’t targeted to the tastes of a particular gender, according to Bob Greene, Starz executive vice president of advanced services.

Significant differences also remain in TV viewing, with ESPN topping the list of the top ad-supported networks for men and Lifetime being the favorite among women.

But there are important similarities that can’t be ignored.

Four of the top 10 cable programmers make the ranking for men and women.

Perhaps more important than gender is the attachment viewers have to specific content.

“The exclusive focus on either gender or age [in terms of using newer video platforms] is bunk,” said Channing Dawson, senior vice president of new media at Scripps Entertainment.

Dawson pointed out that quilters — a group that tends to be comprised of older women — were one of Scripps’ earliest online audiences.

“Older women aren’t known as first adopters, but these quilters are one of the most vocal groups we have,” Dawson said. “If you have an enthusiast audience, they will be deeply engaged with the content on air, online and so forth regardless of their demo.”

Dawson added that the Food Network and HGTV Web sites, which are heavily trafficked by women, are now approaching 8 to 9 million video streams per month.

“We’ve seen time spent on the Web go up because of the video,” he added. “But it hasn’t hurt ratings.”

That focus on fans also plays a big role in ESPN’s new media strategy, which extends from the television to a plethora of offerings for mobile, broadband video, game consoles and iPods, ESPN senior vice president of technology Aaron LaBerge said.

While the number of videos viewed online has tripled in the last 18 months, TV ratings have also risen, LaBerge said. In fact, the heaviest users of the other platforms are also the biggest consumers of linear television.

Users of their fantasy football product, for example, watch three hours more per week of National Football League games than the average viewer and have four times more page views on the site, LaBerge explained.

“Our heaviest users of ESPN.com also watch more of our ESPN television channels,” ESPN senior vice president of research and sales development Artie Bulgrin said. “The other platforms aren’t cannibalizing TV. Quite the opposite. They augment and help us expand our audience.”

Enthusiast content is also playing a key role at Rainbow, particularly in the VOD area. For independent film fans and IFC viewers, it is offering pay-per-view movies at the same time they are released to theaters.

The move, according to Sapan, has boosted buy rates and theatrical grosses.

Rainbow’s MagRack and sportskool video-on-demand products are also targeted to enthusiasts, Sapan said.

“They are one of the most-used VOD services,” he said. “If people are interested in the content, they will be driven to the platform.”

Since launching, gay-themed MTV Networks’ service Logo has spread its content to a total of five platforms. The cross-platform play has been important because the fledgling network has limited cable distribution, Logo senior vice president and general manager Lisa Sherman said.

The move also reflects the fact that “all data suggests that gays are far more likely to watch steaming video and spend more time online than their straight counterparts,” Sherman said. “Gays are early adopters, and that’s important for us because if we’re in 20-plus million homes, that means 70% of the country can’t see us. These platforms are a way to reach them.”

Like other programmers, Logo’s online and cross platform plays are also influencing its linear television offering. So many viewers watched documentary Curl Girls, about lesbian surfers, that the network decided to devote an entire series to the subject, which will premiere next year.

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