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Miley, Milo Key to Wooing Young Viewers

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A new TV season always has a few surprises, some of them occasionally even pleasant. For NBC, one revelation is that a couple of new shows, along with a tweak to an old one, have brought a promising number of millennials to the net. NBC’s entertainment programming is not only up 3% in viewers 18-34 through Oct. 16, year-over-year, it’s also up 10% in viewers 18-24, according to Nielsen’s most current ratings.

No one is exactly sure why Gen Y is tuning in. “We’re very pleasantly surprised,” admits Jeff Bader, NBC entertainment president, program planning, strategy and research. “We seemed to have tapped into something. We’ve stemmed the flow from our network, and actually brought people back.”

Those within NBC do have theories. This Is Us enjoyed a giant social boom before its premiere, including a trailer with more than 105 million views, and its diverse collection of characters falls in the millennial sweet spot. (Star Milo Ventimiglia too is known to a certain segment of the population from his time on Gilmore Girls.) According to Nielsen there were over 383,000 social interactions around the This Is Us premiere, easily ahead of the 290,000 posted for runner-up Rob & Chyna on E!

Also, TheVoice introduced a pair of high-profile young judges in Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys, while Kristen Bell, ex-star of teen drama Veronica Mars, has brought younger viewers to offbeat comedy The Good Place. “They’ve done a little more to attract younger audiences than the other guys have,” says one veteran programming exec who wished to be unnamed.

CBS’ entertainment programming, for its part, is down 5% in viewers 18-34, and up 4% 18-24, per Nielsen’s most current ratings. ABC, Fox and The CW show double-digit decreases in both demos.

Young and Restless

A B&C report from last spring revealed massive numbers of young viewers departing broadcast TV. At the time of its publication, a couple of weeks before the season ended, the five broadcast networks were down 10.4% in 18-34 viewership. While the large majority of series were shown to be bleeding young viewers, a few, including CBS’ 60 Minutes, ABC’s The Bachelor and Fox’s Empire, did show gains in that demo.

Programming veterans say a network reaches millennials not so much by targeting them with young-skewing programming, but by creating quality series that people young and not so young will eventually find.

The season is still in its salad course, and rookie shows such as This Is Us will have a tough time sustaining ratings momentum. (The drama rated a 2.6 in adults 18-49 Oct. 18, per Nielsen’s overnights, a 7% drop from the week before.) Last week, NBC announced that Gwen Stefani is rejoining the coaches’ crew on The Voice for season 12 this winter, but that Cyrus is taking a season off before returning next fall. “It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any impact on the audience without Miley,” says Mike Bloxham, senior VP of national TV at Frank N. Magid Associates.

Bloxham knows that a network’s fortunes can turn quickly. “But I’d be surprised,” he says, “if NBC let this early advantage slip.”