Fifty Shades of Grey: Broadcast Audience Older Than Ever

Ratings hold up while viewers continue to age out of the demo

Call it déjà view.

With three weeks of Nielsen data in the books, the 2013-14 broadcast TV season is shaping up to be a carbon copy of last year’s campaign. Ratings are effectively flat versus the first three weeks of last season, and the trends that have stymied networks for years (a rapidly aging audience, commercial avoidance) show no sign of reversing field.

For the period spanning Sept. 23-Oct. 13, overall deliveries are up a smidgen (8.17 million viewers versus 8.13 million in the year-ago period), while the average rating for adults 18-49 is flat at a 2.3. As was the case a year ago, NBC is in first place among live-same-day deliveries, averaging a 2.9 in the demo, while CBS and ABC are tied with a 2.1. Bringing up the rear is Fox (1.9).

As stable as the early ratings have been, the age discrepancy between now and 12 months ago is a bit disconcerting. But for ABC, every network has aged up a bit versus the year-ago period, bringing the average broadcast viewer to a ripe old 53.9 years. In other words, nearly half of those watching network television have aged out of the 25-54 demo. 

With a median age of 58.2 years, CBS remains the oldest-skewing of the Big Four. No fewer than 10 CBS programs—NCIS, Blue Bloods, Hawaii Five-0, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Good Wife, Undercover Boss, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, 60 Minutes and 48 Hours—deliver a median age of 60 years and up, and the Friday night cop show Blue Bloods is the grayest of all (62.6).

CBS’ four remaining freshman series are drawing a slightly younger audience (54.8), with the Anna Faris comedy Mom the youngest with a median age of 52.2 years. The canceled sitcom We Are Men was actually one of the network’s more youthful shows; its median age of 51.4 years put it in the company of 2 Broke Girls (51.5 years), The Big Bang Theory (49.9) and How I Met Your Mother (46.5).

ABC’s elder-skewing competition series, Dancing With the Stars, is the only other broadcast series to break the Diamond Jubilee mark (62.1 years), although the network’s Monday night procedural Castle flirts with the line (59.6).

The new series generally deliver a younger cohort of viewers (51 years), with the Fox comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine the most apple-cheeked at 41.3 years. Including the Andy Samberg vehicle, there are eight new series that reach a median age under 50: Dads (44.3), Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (45.9), Junior MasterChef (46.2), Super Fun Night (47.3), C3 champ Sleepy Hollow (48.1), The Goldbergs (48.3) and Welcome to the Family (48.8). Not surprisingly, four of those shows air on Fox and five are comedies.

The oldest-skewing new series is NBC’s Ironside (59).

On the other side of the age continuum, Fox has retained bragging rights to broadcast’s youngest-skewing series, thanks to its Animation Domination lineup and Tuesday comedy block. American Dad is once again the dewiest show on the dial, with a median age of 32.1 years, while Family Guy (32.7), Bob’s Burgers (33), The Simpsons (34.6), New Girl (35.2) and The Mindy Project (35.5) are in no danger of scraping against the demo ceiling.

The graying of broadcast may be a logical function of an aging populace, but it also suggests that younger viewers simply are not tuning in to network TV. Last night alone, teen deliveries were down 12 percent in prime, while adults 18-34 were off 10 percent.

When compared to the final numbers for the 1999-2000 season, the ABC audience has aged the most (up 10.3 years from a median 43). Fox is 10.2 years older, CBS tacked on 5.9 years to its median age and NBC apparently has made some sort of Dorian Gray arrangement, aging just 5.2 years.

While CBS has acknowledged the aging trend by making guarantees against its deliveries of adults 25-54, the 18-49 crowd continues to disproportionately powerful impact on marketers. But if the early numbers for the new series are any indication, the target audience for all these televised overtures largely has tuned away.

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