Networks Tap Rich Vein: Their Audiences

Media agency executives who were visited by Bravo ad sales reps this year were left with a fun parting gift—a copy of the Bravo Affluencer, a large-size, 80-page, glossy magazine the network printed.

While the Affluencer showcases Bravo's programming, the magazine is really there to splashily celebrate a collection the network is equally proud of: its audience of “affluencers.”

Now more than ever, programmers are focusing on the appeal of their audience, as media buyers become more demanding about what exactly they need.

“People are now looking for ways to get beyond pure audience delivery as a point of leverage with advertisers,” says John Barker, president of Barker/DZP, an advertising agency specializing in entertainment and cable. “They put a compelling argument on the table about the ability of viewers to afford more upscale products.”

Bravo last year coined “affluencer” and unveiled it—in the form of life-sized pictures of a girl and guy decked out with electronics gear and shopping bags—to press and advertisers, using the term to suggest an audience the network's executives say are the most educated, upscale and engaged viewers on cable.

One year later, Bravo is not the only network driving home the point. Sundance Channel and Scripps' Fine Living Network, for example, have jumped on the affluence bandwagon, with each claiming its own legion of rich viewers. Both are doing so in response to advertisers' demands for moneyed audiences at a time when the country is mired in declining economic times—and with the upfront season upon us.

“The positioning of the upfronts is a two-way street,” Barker says. “Networks don't make decisions on how to focus their upfront in a vacuum; they're doing it based on feedback from the marketplace.”

While there are now more affluent households than ever before, according to a 2008 survey by the American Affluence Research Center those households are also spending less. Some 55% of the wealthiest Americans have cut back on expenditures in the past year and will do so again next year. The top 10% of those households have an average net worth of $3.1 million and an average annual salary of $315,000.

The networks' claims also come as advertisers are demanding more data than ever on viewers. “Over the last several years, we have seen more networks come with more proprietary information on their consumers,” says Christine Olson, VP of Cable Activation/Director at media buying agency Starcom. “The more data and information and understanding we have of the behavior of our viewers, the better it helps us understand which properties are best for our clients.”

To gather audience affluence numbers, networks are using Nielsen data—which, given its wide availability, is perhaps the most respectable—or commissioning proprietary research from agencies like Simmons and OTX to parse numbers.


Last year, Scripps' Fine Living commissioned the “Search for Sarah,” a study to find its target viewer by following educated, upscale women in four cities in their homes. The viewer the network found is what it calls the CFO, or “Chief Family Officer,” the person in the household who spends money on travel, home improvement, philanthropy, education and other key expenditures—and who uses TV as a primary source of entertainment. The network is now using “CFO” in materials targeted at media buyers.

“For us, it comes down to time-starved working professionals who use television to get information, but also to relax,” says Fine Living General Manager Chad Youngblood.

Sundance paired with OTX on a study of 1,505 people that it said found its viewers to be more affluent and tech-savvy than those of competitors, including Bravo and A&E.

Bravo uses Nielsen MarketBreaks data to show that it is the No. 1 ad-supported entertainment cable network with viewers 18-49 and 25-54 with household incomes of $125,000. That claim is based on VPVH (viewers per viewing household), which indicates that Bravo's concentration of affluent viewers is higher than others. But Bravo posts healthy monied audiences as well—the network is No. 8 in delivery of adults 18-49 with incomes of more than $100,000 in prime during first quarter, according to Nielsen.

“The Affluencer is sort of a shortcut and a visual depiction of who you're trying to reach, and it seems like now everybody wants to get on that bandwagon because it did incredibly well,” says Susan Malfa, VP of sales for Bravo. “But the numbers speak for themselves.”