Broadcast networks search for missing men

Missing Man

Broadcast television audiences have historically skewed female, with about six women watching, on the average, for every four men. But for the new season about to kick off, network programmers are trying very, very hard to change that, according to a September 9 Advertising Age report.

Making up for lost numbers

Broadcast networks have come a long way from pre-cable days – mostly downward, in terms of audience share. Before cable, the three alphabet networks enjoyed a combined 90 percent share of audience. With cable, that shrunk to about 30 percent. With the arrival of Fox and then the CW on the scene, that smaller pie had to get sliced up five ways instead of three. And last season, that pie got 8 percent smaller.

Rather than recapture lost viewers – mostly women – the broadcast networks are taking a leaf from their cable competitors’ book and going after new viewers, namely men.

Cable is from Mars, broadcast from Venus

While broadcast is a woman’s world – the most male network audience is Fox’s, with men comprising 47.3 percent – much of cable is stag, and not just for sports programming.

ESPN, as you’d expect, has the highest percentage of male audience – 70.3, to be exact – but Discovery (64.8 percent), the History Channel (60.5 percent), FX (56.2), AMC (55.8) and A&E (50.2) are no slouches, either.

The sincerest form of flattery

Television programming is far more imitative than innovative, and successful male-oriented cable hits like “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad” have certainly given them something to imitate.

As a result, the broadcast networks’ program lineups are all undergoing something of a sex change.

Fox (47.3/52.7 male/female audience, second in adults 18-49) is introducing what Ad Age calls two “male-centric comedies” – “Dads” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – this week.

CBS (44.1/55.9, first in 18-49) is rolling out its own comedy series, “We Are Men.”

Third-place NBC (44.1/55.9) will air a “gritty drama” series called “The Blacklist” and bring the old “Ironside” series, which ran from 1967 through 1975, back from the grave.

The CW (41.7/58.3), whose audience has comprised mainly teenage girls, will be adding science-fiction series “The Tomorrow People” and “The Originals.”

ABC, which is dead last in 18-49-year-olds among the Big Four and lowest in men (35/65), will be bumping the Tuesday night “Dancing With the Stars” results show (70 percent female audience) to make room for “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee has high hopes for.

“It is going to recruit a whole new audience,” he told Ad Age. But chances are he also said that about “Last Resort” and “Zero Hour,” both of which turned out to be flops.

Picking the high-hanging fruit

While broadcast honchos like Lee are betting on a few good men’s shows to increase their total audiences, media-buying professionals think the odds are against them.

“Network isn’t the place to target males,”  says Amy Sotiridy, senior VP-director of national broadcast at agency Initiative. “If you are looking to reach young males you are buying sports or male-targeted cable.”

Sam Armando, senior VP-director of strategic intelligence at Publicis Groupe’s SMGx, agrees. “Cable has a niche and can succeed with lower ratings. Broadcast needs to bring in males without alienating the female viewer,” he adds. “I can’t recall a broadcast show that was hugely successful that skewed highly male.”

Apparently, he can’t recall either Sunday Night Football or the Super Bowl. But then, the Super Bowl isn’t a weekly series.

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