October 24, 2011

For years the 18-to-49-year-old audience has been the Holy Grail for TV networks. But the latest Nielsen rating data, as reported by the Wall St. Journal, reveals that major TV networks can’t seem to find these people any longer. 

The worst network is NBC. Leaving out National Football League games on Sunday, their 18-to-49-year-old audience is only 2.2 million—down 16% from a year earlier. The other major networks, although better, are following the same trend. ABC is down 5.8% and CBS is down 2.3%. Only Fox is up 11%, according to Nielsen. 

Tradition says you turn this around by creating TV shows that younger viewers like watching. This is one approach, since traditional hits are aging. But will this really help if your market has moved on to other entertainment delivery systems? 

Anyone in this targeted age group knows that they are spending less time with the tube and more time using smartphones, tablet computers (the iPad is king) and laptops to entertain themselves. Nielsen’s Three Screen Report clearly shows this migration. 

Even older people outside of this key demographic (like me) are finding that high-speed internet is more important than cable or over-the-air TV. This summer my wife and I were traveling in Alaska as official traveler bloggers. Our entertainment consisted of listening to NPR radio and watching the evening news and the Daily Show on our iPad.

Tip for TV networks: start testing your new shows where your key audience lives, online. Once a show gets a following or buzz move it to your older delivery system.

What is the lesson for small business? As I point out in my book, don’t let your customers get to the future before you do, or they will leave you behind. Make sure you are delivering your product in a way that makes it easy for your customer to access.

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