TV networks vs. social networks

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    300 dpi Martin Gee color illustration of media flow chart showing multiple ways a video can move from traditional TV, through networks, to handheld device, to DVD, to wireless phone. San Jose Mercury News 2008<p>

    With BC-CPT-TVOPTIONS-COMMENTARY: SJ, San Jose Mercury News by Chris O'Brien<p>

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The median age for TV viewers hit 50 last season.

To paraphrase Variety, that means that if today’s TV audience were a person, it wouldn’t even be a part of the target demographic anymore.

For the first time since Magna Global started keeping count, less than half of network-TV viewers now fall into the coveted 18-49 demo, according to a new study. And the percentage of older viewers is likely to rise.

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Don’t chalk up this shift to the graying of the baby boomers. They’re certainly passing 50, but they’re not driving this trend, says Magna analyst Steven Sternberg. It's just that younger people have other things to do.

“Traditional television is no longer necessarily the first screen for the younger set,” he says. For many, that “first screen” is now their computer.

These numbers only track live TV audiences, i.e. it doesn't count anything that’s recorded on a TiVo to watch later. But even if you factor in shows watched seven days after they aired, the median age for the networks (other than CW and Univision) drops to 49 – a measly one-year difference. (In case you were wondering, the median American is 38 years old.)

This is one of the clearest signs that the Internet is a competitor to television. While cable TV is certainly another major player, idle surfing, social networking, YouTube viewing, news reading, MP3 downloading, and email drafting has pulled Americans away from the small screen and toward a smaller one.

A few years ago I realized that I watch barely any live TV. It’s down to about two shows a week – and during the summer, it’s zero shows a week. Instead, I have websites, blogs, Hulu, podcasts, IM, etc. When I do sit in front of the TV, it’s courtesy of Netflix, not the networks.

Advertisers are taking note. Media group ZenithOptimedia predicts that online ads will hit $52.2 billion this year, $64 billion in 2009, and $78.1 billion in 2010, at which time, it will account for 13.6 percent of all advertising, according to PaidContent. And they suggest that the “increasing economic uncertainty that … is swirling in Europe and the North America will accelerate the shift to online."

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