Thursday, November 27, 2003

A pitch to the ailing Channel 7 – try stealing the ABC’s audience

I’m serious. With Seven vowing yet again that next year will be belong to it and its 25-54 audience demographic, it’s time someone did them a favour and pointed out – there is no such thing. Such age range covers three very distinct cohorts, with its middle – today’s 30-somethings – having probably the lowest spending power (because of unemployment/McJobs or over-work and mega-mortgages) of any age grouping since WWII. (A home-owning old age pensioner has much more disposable income than me, for example.) Inevitably, even well-meaning programs about 30-somethings will fall or fail narratively into this socio-economic black hole (like “CrashBurn” did), unless they walk the dark side, too (like “Six Feet Under”), with even then the result being a labour of love, and not at all a sponsor wallet-opener.

The bother that Seven finds itself in is admittedly diabolical – Ten is cruising along happily as king as the kids-to-39s* while Nine skews much older, but with a “family friendly” twist; meaning that much of its product is effectively dual-purposed, being equally suitable for the declining minds of 70-somethings and the developing minds of the pre-teens. Seven is wedged firmly in the middle; and oh what a deep crevasse it is. There is no room for another, yoof-oriented competitor to Ten, while no network in its right mind would be making an overt (or even covert) pitch for the over-60 audience. (The oldies may be asset-rich, but it takes a lot more than a 30-second advertisement to get them to part with any of it.)

Meanwhile, for years ABC TV has been happily cruising along catering almost exclusively – at prime time, anyway – to the most prized demographic of them all, the baby boomers (aged 40 to 58, in 2003). On its face, this may sound paradoxical; baby boomers are the most voracious and air-headed (think of any, non-yoof-targeted car ad) mob in history since Rome was sacked, yet their television viewing is peculiarly beyond the claws of advertisers. To which I say – never underestimate the power of a free ride. The boomers had it in everything else (jobs, unis), so why shouldn’t the taxpayer-funded ABC have been conscripted as their little private domain (sometime in the late 80s)?

Of course, ABC ratings are usually not within cooee even of Seven’s, but everyone snickered at the then-third-ranked Ten when it started to demographically narrowcast. Plus the ABC doesn’t tend to, for obvious reasons, wring its scripts and flog its output as remorselessly as do the commercials. In other words, current ABC ratings would sharply underestimate the real commercial viability of Boomer TV. While radio isn’t really the subject of this piece, I note that today Wendy Harmer is tub-thumping for a Boomer FM to be established (again ignoring the fact that ABC radio has been narrowcasting to boomers for years, albeit on the AM band (And yes, I have heard of JJJ FM, but I’d bet that this makes money for the ABC, as opposed to the money-pit AM stations and networks)).

For Seven, swiping the ABC’s audience and then building it up (mmnn, think of the cross-promotional tie-in possibilities with car brands) should be a cinch. It should start by signing on all the out-of-contract ABC identities it can find. Some from-scratch programming will also be required, and conveniently, Geoffrey Atherden is currently crying out to develop a noughties version of “Mother and Son”: Why not . . . a family drama that includes a marriage bust-up over caring for geriatric parents?”, as well as a sort of “Mother and Son” junior: “Why not a television series about love in later life? Something about a 50-year-old divorcee with twentysomething stay-at-homes who longs to start dating?" (same URL). Fortunately for Seven, Geoffrey Atherden won’t be expensive when it comes a’knocking, either. With two bathetic-sounding telemovies in the pipeline (on Ten!) – “Stepfather of the Bride” and one about a reckless bloke who becomes a bushfire hero (same URL) – Geoffrey will surely be willing to churn out just about anything Seven says, particularly when the next land tax bill, for his twixt-ferry stop and ocean “leafy” piece of peninsula should come sailing in, all “little, white [and] fluffy” through Sydney Heads.

* Like “Toolies” on the Gold Coast in November, we 30-somethings are happy to go along for any ride, and the cheaper the better.

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