TV Viewers Getting Older Fast, Analyst Says

TV viewers are getting older faster than the general population, and that’s probably not good for the industry, according to a new report.

Analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research calculates that the median age of viewers during the 2013-14 TV season has risen by 2.5 years, or 6% to 44.4 years old since the 2009-10 season.  He says that over the past five years, TV viewers have aged 5% faster than the average American, with broadcast network viewers getting 7% older to a median of 53.9 years old, and cable network viewers getting 8% older for a media of 40.

The median age of America was 37.2 years old, up 1.9 years over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census. A more recent government report put the median age at 37.6 year old in 2014.

Nathanson notes that live primetime viewing is down 13% since the 2009-10 season, but that viewership among people age 55 and up has been steady.

“We think that the shift in demographic viewing behavior is caused by a combination of factors ranging from lower TV penetration rates of under-25 year old households to increasing use of time-shifting technologies in most under-55 year old households," Nathanson says in his report.

Among the broadcasters, Fox is the youngest, but its median age is now 47.8 years, up 3.2 years over the past five years. CBS is the oldest at 58.7 years, and has aged the most over the past five years.

Nathanson notes that viewing data is based on Nielsen ratings, which do not include viewing on tablets and mobile devices, which would lower the averages.

Outside of the kids’ networks, the youngest cable networks are Nick At Nite at 20.8 years, MTV2 at 23.2 years, MTV at 23.5 years and Adult Swim at 23.8 years. All of those are older than they were during the 2009-10 season, Nathanson notes.

The networks with lower median ages are led by FXX (which converted from Fox Soccer), TruTV and AMC.

The oldest cable networks are Fox News, Hallmark Movie Channel and RFD-TV, all of which are classified as being 65-plus.

The network that has aged the most is BET, followed by GAC and Mun2.

Why does this all matter? "We believe part of this could already be impacting some of the advertising results,” Nathanson says. “Given our assumption that adults 18-49 CPMs are a 5%-10% premium to adults 25 to54, we feel this could remain an issue and have a negative impact on advertising as viewers continue to age. However, this could be at least partially by Nielsen looking to capture non-linear viewing habits within its aggregate ratings.”

(Photo via LG's FlickrImage taken on Sept. 4, 2014 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.