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The youth demographic is no longer the prize

We’ve passed the midpoint of the traditional TV season, and while thenetworks can conceal their growing anxiety behind the smokescreen ofeconomic bad news, the fact is that things haven’t gone well, and nowis the last moment for fixing it.

TIME TO PANIC: We’ve passed the midpoint of the traditional TV season, and while the networks can conceal their growing anxiety behind the smokescreen of economic bad news, the fact is that things haven’t gone well, and now is the last moment for fixing it.

As long as the 18-49 demographic is still considered a mix of the football team, the cheerleading squad and the rich kid who lets you drive his BMW, there’s no consolation to be had from news that three of the four U.S. networks have lost a considerable chunk of these viewers – a 12 per cent drop from last year’s numbers for ABC and NBC, and a 14 per cent loss for Fox, according to a New York Times story.

Only CBS is weathering the demographic exodus, gaining in overall audience and only losing three per cent of the 18-49ers, but it has to be remembered that CBS - home of procedurals like Cold Case, Without a Trace, NCIS and the CSI franchise, reality stalwarts Survivor, Big Brother and The Amazing Race and top sitcom Two And A Half Men – is generally considered the house network for the Rogaine generation.

No one who knows the difference between The Shins and The Mars Volta watches CBS to begin with, and if youngsters keep abandoning the networks, we may finally see the emergence of a new consensus among marketing types that young people – probably the most likely to see their disposable income evaporate if the economic downturn continues – aren’t the holy grail of audiences anymore.

It may already be happening. The Times piece notes that network strategies aren’t looking that audacious – production teams with a proven track record are behind many of the new shows, many of which are spin-offs or forays into safe genres like procedurals. CBS is preparing a spin-off of NCIS, NBC has put Greg Daniels and Michael Schur of The Office in charge of Amy Poehler’s new sitcom, and is filling ER’s soon-to-be-vacant slot with Southland, a cop show set in L.A., at least until Jay Leno can take over the space next season.

A few of you might already have noticed that ads for adult incontinence pads and cures for male urinary irregularities have migrated from cable and late night to prime time. Look for more of the same, until the day when some network realizes that enough of their viewers have Alzheimer’s for them to just run the same episode of CSI every night.

 
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