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7/2/2008
11:25 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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TV Jumps Shark For Generation Net

It can't really come as a surprise, the item the other day in Variety, reporting that the median age of viewers of broadcast-network television is 50. Here's the question, though: Have the young'uns deserted TV because the Internet is so much more compelling or because the former is even more unwatchable than episodes of Tila Tequila?

It can't really come as a surprise, the item the other day in Variety, reporting that the median age of viewers of broadcast-network television is 50. Here's the question, though: Have the young'uns deserted TV because the Internet is so much more compelling or because the former is even more unwatchable than episodes of Tila Tequila?OK, I admit I'm being glib about a concept -- broadcast TV is dead -- which most of us have taken as a given for a long time, maybe not as far back as the last episode or M.A.S.H., but pretty close. Cable TV, which you'd think would fare much better, really doesn't unless you're talking about kids' channels like Noggin, home of the omnipresent Canadian high-school soap Degrassi, or Nickelodeon's Squarepants.

I was actually a lot hotter for this story when I first saw it in the New York Post's version, which reported it as the average age being 50. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Post doesn't understand the difference between average and median. The original Variety story (here) made clear it's median we're talking about. I don't know the age-distribution curve, but given that the data set is in the millions, I'm betting the sample isn't clustered tightly around the La-Z-Boy cohort; i.e., there's still a sizeable population of pre-seniors watching.

But what the older folks are watching is pretty old-school. For example, 60 Minutes registers a median audience age of 60 (they didn't know the title was prescient), while the Fox News Channel's audience is reported to have a median age above 65! At the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox's always tasteful Family Guy has an median viewership age (not IQ) of 29, while the CW's One Tree Hill measures in at 26.

OK, so here's my real point: Weep not for the networks, because while their supposed real-time viewership is getting older even as you're slogging your way through this post, new online video paradigms are emerging. The coolest, and to my mind most forward-thinking, is Hulu, a joint venture between NBC and Fox, which posts up for free viewing complete episodes of Family Guy, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and even movies. The only downsides are that the full TV shows are available on a rotating basis, and the movies are kind of moldy (stuff like Men In Black and Raising Arizona). The site is also padded out with lots of clips, for the YouTube generation, I guess. Me, I'm only interested in the full-episode stuff; I highly recommend the little-known FX documentary series 30 Days, by Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me fame.

Anyway, so the strange part is that Hulu seems to have been launched with almost no promotion. Possibly this is because neither NBC nor Fox wanted to cannibalize their broadcast viewerships. However, once I pointed my kids to Hulu, they were quite happy to partake.

Which means, to me, that the whole question about whether the PC is an appropriate platform for TV viewership -- the "entertainment PC" as the living room's new-age electronic hearth famously never caught on the way Microsoft, HP, and others hoped it would -- has now been answered.

The PC will indeed be the new TV, sooner or later (I'm betting sooner). It'll get there even quicker if HDMI is unencumbered with DRM, but that's a post for another day.

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