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CBS Says Age and Sex Don’t Matter



TV network CBS is taking a stance about sexism and ageism, but it has nothing to do with their hiring practices, it has to do with viewer demographics. CBS is working with Nielsen to devise a new way for categorizing viewers, one that is based on viewer behavior instead of their vital stats.

AdAge got the scoop from CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack, who talked about the idea at the Advertising Research Foundation’s Re:Think 2011 conference.

Poltrack says that small test studies conducted by Nielsen and Nielsen Catalina have proved what he’s always known, which is that “There is no link, none, between the age of the specified demographic delivery of the campaign and the sales generated by that campaign.”

He pointed to the results of a test involving snack food buyers. The survey came up with a long list of shows that snackers listed as their favorites, but only three of those shows were tops among the coveted 18-49 age group. Now, this is a good place to note that CBS has the oldest audience of any of the five networks with a season premiere median of 54.9. Since they land well outside of the preferred age group for advertisers, it’s possible that this influenced their decision to erase age from the equation.

Poltrack didn’t dodge this fact during his speech, he actually used it to make a very good point for all marketers. The 18 – 49 demographic is on the decline and is headed to hit a low of 55% by 2016.

As for noting whether a viewer is male or female, it’s fair to say that there are certain products that lean more one way or the other, but gender lines are shifting. Diaper companies now run ads aimed at men and there are plenty of car commercials aimed at women.

CBS’s wants to build a new ratings model that divides the audience up into behavioral segments.  (From AdAge)

TV companions: For this group, TV is almost always on and is like a member of the family.

Media trendsetters: Early adopters of technology and new content, and also 39% multicultural.

Sports enthusiasts: Made up mostly of men, but most guys aren’t classified here. This group also likes action-adventure programming.

Program passionates: Highly involved with favorite shows, and the biggest DVR time-shifters.

Surfers and streamers: Most open to watching alternative content on TV and most often using laptops or tablets to multitask while watching TV. They skew young, but include a large component of 50-plus people.

TV moderators: Those who enjoy being experts and leading others’ choices.

I fit nicely into the “program passionates” label. The perfect person to get pitches about the latest TV on DVD ads, TV tie-in products and anything that my favorite characters eat, drink or touch on my favorite shows. It doesn’t matter how old I am, or that I’m a woman. I’m likely to buy those products because I am passionate about my shows.

Finally, somebody gets it!

Earlier today I was reading an article titled, “Of Course Social Media Works — If You Measure It Right.” It’s another call to stop using click-throughs as the be all and end all benchmark of digital success. Like demographics for TV ratings, click-throughs are a measure everyone recognizes and so it’s a measure they trust. But with the changes in technology and in online and TV viewing habits, blindly sticking to the old way isn’t doing anyone any favors.

When Nielsen began measuring audiences, it made sense to group them by age and sex. Laundry detergent manufacturers wanted to reach young women with families and razor companies were after men of shaving age. But who are you trying to reach with an ad for the iPad, or green smartcar or the latest Glee soundtrack?

I’m here to tell you that if you based your advertising pitches to me on my gender and age, you’d be way off the mark.

What do you think of CBS’s plan to switch from demographics to behavioral targeting? And smart or not, do they even have a chance of changing fifty plus years of ratings history?

  • http://www.bigpictureweb.com Josh

    They’re moving from demographics to psychographics? Welcome to new media!

  • http://smbirdbrain.blogspot.com Robyn McIntyre

    About time. And my guess is that, if Nielsen doesn’t pay attention, CBS and possibly others, may devise their own systems of measurement.