I admit, I'd never really bought into the idea that television was fading into obscurity in generational terms before. After all, I watch television a lot, and so do most of the people I know, so... That counts for something, right? And then I saw the median ages of each broadcast network. Now, I'm almost convinced that television is doomed, if only because the people watching it aren't going to be around for much longer.
It was this breakdown of audience statistics for the 2010/2011 season that finally convinced me. I knew, before reading it, that each of the major broadcast networks had lost viewers this year; that was almost something I'd been expecting, considering the long-standing move for audiences towards the cord-cutting of viewing online (legally or otherwise), or waiting for DVD releases of whatever shows fans were into. So the falls of CBS, Fox and ABC (Down 3%, 3% and 2% compared with last year, respectively) weren't anything too surprising, and even NBC's more dramatic fall (Down 16%) can be explained away by remembering that the network had an unusually high 2009/2010 because of their Olympics coverage (The CW stayed impressively even, although it's less impressive when you realize that their "even" is still having less than a fifth of the viewers of Fox). Hell, even seeing drops in the all-important 18-49 demographic was nothing unusual.
But then came the median age of each network, and the realization that broadcast television audiences are very old indeed. How old, you may ask? Old enough that only two of the five broadcast networks have a median age within the all-important 18-49 demographic group, I reply. Here are the somewhat stunning numbers:
ABC Median Age: 61 years old.CBS Median Age: 55 years old.Fox Median Age: 45 years old.NBC Median Age: 49 years old.The CW Median Age: 34 years old.
How are television audiences so old?!? Is this a case of the median being completely screwed by having armies of people in retirement homes who have nothing better to do than watch television continuously, thereby ruining the grading curve? I mean, I could believe that CBS and ABC skew older - although I'm genuinely surprised that CBS skews younger than ABC - but the CW's median is 34 years old? Have you seen what is on the CW? Is there a secret, older fanbase for Supernatural and Nikita that I'm entirely unaware of?
And not only that: Where are the younger viewers? Have they abandoned broadcast networks for cable (They're all watching Game of Thrones, aren't they? That and Jersey Shore), or abandoned television altogether for the internet? Is broadcast television offering younger viewers so little reason to tune in that its just killing time, waiting until its existing viewer base dies off?
(I do wonder whether daytime viewing doesn't massively affect the ages; after all, a large percentage of adults under, say, 60 are probably working until the evening, but all of the networks, with the exception of the CW - which has a significantly lower median, remember - have programming during the day. Is that pushing the ages up?)
Whatever the reason, it's a weirdly sobering moment to realize just how aged broadcast television audiences actually are - and an even more surreal thing to then wonder what the older members of the audience actually think of shows that pander to "the kids" like Glee, Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries. Suddenly, the networks seem much less like their pandering to their audiences, don't they?