In a move its head of sales calls a “radical” departure from the long-held orthodoxy of catering to youth, A+E Networks has decided to embrace TV viewers 55 and older.
The owner of networks like A&E, History and Lifetime says it will transact with advertisers on a total-audience basis, departing from the industry’s focus on demographics. A+E will hold its virtual upfront event on March 3, outlining primary audience guarantees against adults 18 and older.
In an interview with Deadline, A+E ad sales president Peter Olsen emphasized that the company is not abandoning younger viewers. But he said the total-audience orientation will help the company more effectively reach viewers who matter most in terms of making ad buys effective. About one-third of A+E advertising is from direct-to-consumer brands (think Casper mattresses). Those pitches have a clear path to viewers who are comfortable with linear TV, where the median age of viewers is 57. “If you market to the audience that’s there, they’ll buy your product,” Olsen said.
The clear emphasis on older viewers is “somewhat of a radical position to take, but it’s one rooted in a dialogue,” Olsen said. “We believe it’s a good thing for the industry.”
Viewership of linear TV has been eroding in recent years as more viewers flock to streaming and digital platforms. At the same time, the traditional TV business has life left in it thanks to the rise of DTC brands like Carvana and Smile Direct Club. Retail advertising overall gained in the fourth-quarter as Covid-19 continued to drive demand for many products, with travel and leisure spending options virtually non-existent. But brick-and-mortar retail advertising as a segment declined, according to Olsen, which was partly a pandemic trend and partly a larger reordering of the advertising economy.
“The time has passed for us pretending that things are any different,” the executive said. “There’s been a lethargy or an inertia” as many marketers assume, ‘Oh, I’ll get the older audience, they’ll come along.'” The result, he said, is a “math problem,” where CPMs rise because of a scarcity of supply of programming with demonstrated audience appeal.”
A+E, which is a joint venure of Hearst Corp. and Disney, said it will continue to use traditional audience measurement companies and is open to including a secondary metric on ad deals. That secondary metric can be a narrower demographic audience, an advanced audience metric or a performance outcome. Two years ago, A+E was ahead of the curve in offering advertisers guarantees on business outcomes.