In the midst of a changing television landscape dominated by streaming platforms, network television is discovering an unexpected lifeline in an older demographic. The median age of viewers on major networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox has significantly increased in recent years, with many entertainment shows now drawing audiences primarily composed of people over 60.
This shift has prompted network executives to explore ways to cater to this older audience, which still adheres to traditional viewing habits. Kevin Reilly, a seasoned programming executive, noted that “Boomers are keeping it afloat,” referring to network TV. Many from this generation grew up with television as the centerpiece of their living rooms and continue to watch shows in real-time.
Network television faces a pivotal moment in its history, as it no longer enjoys the status of being the go-to source for hit shows and cultural phenomena. Hollywood’s recent writers’ and actors’ strikes have exacerbated the situation, resulting in a fragmented programming lineup that relies heavily on reality series, sports, game shows, and repeats.
Just nine years ago, the median age of viewers for top-rated network entertainment shows ranged from the mid-40s to early 50s. However, the most recent television season saw a significant shift, with the median viewer age surpassing 60 for most entertainment programs. Popular shows like “The Voice,” “The Masked Singer,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Young Sheldon” all had predominantly older audiences.
Local television stations have observed similar trends, with a distinct generational divide occurring at the age of 45. Generation X and Baby Boomers tend to stick to their television habits from childhood, while younger viewers gravitate towards alternative platforms.
Executives have pointed out that the median age for these series tends to be younger when measured on affiliated streaming services like Hulu, Peacock, and Paramount+. Some shows have median viewer ages that are 20 to 25 years younger on streaming platforms than on broadcast television.
Despite the aging viewership, advertisers still prioritize audiences under the age of 50. The shift in demographics has raised concerns among advertisers, as they are not capitalizing on the spending power of younger viewers.
In response to these changes, network executives are introducing programming that resonates with older viewers. Classic shows such as “Law & Order,” “Quantum Leap,” and “Magnum, P.I.” are making comebacks, often featuring original cast members or new iterations. ABC has scheduled “The Golden Bachelor,” a spinoff of “The Bachelor,” with a 72-year-old main contestant and women aged 60 to 75 vying for his affection. Additionally, time-honored programs like “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” are receiving special prime-time episodes.
The challenge for network television lies in balancing the interests of its loyal older audience with the need to attract younger viewers who have migrated to streaming platforms. As the industry grapples with this transformation, one thing is clear: television’s future will be shaped by its ability to adapt to the changing preferences of viewers across generations.