Half of Broadcast TV Viewers Are 54 and Older—Yikes

More like ... greys' anatomy. Right?
More
Reuters

In the last 20 years, the median age of Americans has increased from 34 to 37. The median age of broadcast TV viewers has increased from 41 to 54. Not a three-year jump, but a 13-year jump.

And therein lies the existential challenge for CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC: How do you persuade advertisers to spend more on an audience that's so obviously graying faster than an already-graying country? You sell them on the purchasing power of senior citizens, I guess. In the 1993-94 broadcast season, Home Improvement was the most-watched show, with a median viewer of 34, Commercial Appeal reports. Today, it’s NCIS, with a median viewer who is 61.

Not a three-year jump, or 13-year jump. A 27-year chasm.

In one generation, the most popular show on broadcast has gone from targeting peak earners to targeting the average age of retirement. Half of the people watching NCIS, the most popular show on TV, are above America's average retirement age, according to Gallup. People wonder why the media doesn't pay attention to NCIS. Maybe it's because, axiomatically, the people paid to write about TV aren't retired.

The bigger picture is that the TV industry is still a monster (see: graph below), and all this advertising isn't going away overnight. But one complicated byproduct of the explosion of video-watching options (the cable network, plus time-shifting, plus premium channels, plus Netflix/Hulu/Amazon, plus digital-only content like YouTube) is that even as we're watching more video than ever, advertising that's chasing a bunch of young live-viewers on the bigger screen are running short of non-sports options.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In