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From Usatoday.com


Are networks losing young-male appeal ? (angel mention)

By Gary Levin

Tuesday 4 November 2003

Where have all the young men gone?

That’s what has TV network executives scratching their heads and pointing fingers at Nielsen Media Research, as they often do when numbers turn south.

There’s no question that the numbers are down: TV viewing among men ages 18 to 34 is off 7% this season, compared with typical shifts of 1% or 2%. The drop-off is even sharper among a notoriously fickle group of men 18 to 24, and teenage girls also are watching less TV, Nielsen reports, threatening millions in ad dollars if the trend persists.

Last weekend’s premiere of Fox’s Sunday lineup - in which The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle remain young-male magnets - was down 23% among that group. Network executives say such severe declines are signs that Nielsen’s measurement system must be in error.

But the declines are mostly limited to the six major broadcast networks, while cable ratings are unchanged from last year. And the small size of the group - the 14 million college-age men account for only 5% of the population - doesn’t explain why networks have lost viewers across the board.

"There’s no real smoking gun everyone can hold up and say, ’Aha! They’re all out renting DVDs, or they all went to movies that night,’ " Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus says.

"But they’re for sure watching less," he says, which suggests that those factors, increased Internet usage and video games - all disproportionately popular among young men - are at least partly to blame. So, perhaps, is the absence of HBO’s The Sopranos, which was appointment viewing last fall.

Steve Sternberg, an analyst at ad firm Magna Global USA, says the industry’s reaction has been overblown: TV viewing among young men is about the same as it was in 1999, with unexplained gains since then now simply moderating.

Sternberg blames the shortfall on new network programming - which he says largely ignores this group - and the natural erosion of aging hits.

"If it was a Nielsen issue, you wouldn’t see it happening among network and not cable," Sternberg says.

Fox’s postseason baseball coverage showed sharp increases among young men, and a handful of shows, including WB’s Angel and Charmed, are up substantially. So are basic-cable networks such as ESPN, BET, Bravo and FX.

"They’re watching television when they want to watch television," says ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne. "If you look across the network schedule, they are probably not the most well-served audience."

Cop shows and family dramas tend to appeal to older viewers and women, and there has been no new comedy hit.

"Creatively, I don’t see a whole lot for men to watch," NBC development chief Kevin Reilly says. He says that explains why cable has so aggressively courted those viewers in the past two years.

Reilly says he’ll look for more guy-appeal shows next year, but Lyne believes young men are too narrow - and fickle - a target for a major network. And if history is a guide, Nielsen’s bad news may disappear in coming weeks, as a severe downturn among female viewers of daytime TV did several years ago. Nielsen says the declines already have begun to diminish in recent days.