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Monday, January 30, 2006

Oh, Ted

Ted Koppel's inaugural New York Times op-ed, which I will gladly e-mail in its entirety to anyone who wants to read it, seeing as how it's stuck behind an idiotwall, does a wonderful job of recapitulating old explanations of how the business of television and cable news changed 15 years ago. (It's not that he's entirely wrong, but how many times do we have to read about how demographics changed news, and niche viewing in the cable world blah blah blah foreign bureaus blah blah blah publicly traded blah blah blah?) Can you point me to a network owner or manager that wasn't a miser? That didn't spend precisely as few dollars as he or she could on news to be competitive in the markplace?

Anyway, Ted is definitely wrong about one thing that gets repeated all the time and drives me nuts:
Oddly enough, there is a looming demographic reality that could help steer television news back toward its original purpose. There are tens of millions of baby boomers in their 40's and 50's and entering their 60's who have far more spending power than their 18-to-34-year-old counterparts. Television news may be debasing itself before the wrong demographic.
It has nothing to do with spending power. In television, eyeballs are a commodity. And there are fewer 18-to-34-year-old eyeballs out there--younger people watch less TV--so they are more expensive to reach. Old people, on the other hand, are always there. As one ad-buying executive put it to me a few years ago for a Chicago Tribune column I wrote about my role as a then-30-year-old viewer: "The reason that you're a valuable target right now is because you're difficult to reach--you avoid advertising and understand it. Older people are easy. They just sit and watch TV."

Couple that with the (probably false) belief among "brand theorists" that younger viewers have less brand loyalty, and are therefore likelier than old people to, say, buy a six-pack of Budweiser when last week they were drinking Miller, and you get a hotter market for younger viewers. It's not about how much money they spend, it's about how likely they are to spend it the way an advertiser wants them to spend it.

In other words, Ted: If you want the network news divisions to stop debasing themselves before the false god of youth, watch less TV. As soon as the 50-and-older crowd becomes as hard to reach as their children, they'll become more valuable to advertisers, and we'll start to see the news divisions deploy the same sorts of shameless tactics to rope them in. Who knows? The networks could even go nuts "covering" health, because it's on the mind of those rapidly deteriorating hard-to-reach boomers, and start shoving cameras up their anchors' colons or something.