The television generation, aka Baby Boomers, now appears to be among the country's least-satisfied viewers of TV programs and commercials.
Their dissatisfaction surfaced in a just-released "TV Land's New Generation Gap Study," which was conducted by Harris Interactive for the cable franchise that devotes the lion's share of its programming to reruns of shows the Boomers grew up with.
Only 3 percent of the 1,655 Baby Boomers polled in April and May described themselves as "extremely satisfied" with the TV shows available, while about half — 53 percent — claimed they pay little or no attention to commercials they perceive as aimed at young adults. One-third of the Boomers said they'd even be less likely to buy products advertised in such a manner.
"There's a point at which people will say they're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore," said Larry W. Jones, president of TV Land, noting his reference to the 1976 movie "Network."
"[Boomers] are just about to reach that point," Jones forecast. "I'm a Boomer; I can feel it myself."
Current TV shows cited as favorites by those among the 78 million Americans ages 40 to 60 have often been created with a younger viewer in mind, like "CSI," "American Idol" and "Desperate Housewives." It's a phenomenon, Jones said, that has left the medium's ad potential and program appeal less than fully realized with the country's most affluent generation ever. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2004 Boomers' household spending totaled $2.3 trillion, dwarfing the $1.5 trillion spent in young adult households and the $900 billion spent in households of the 60-plus cohort.)
"What's missing," said the 45-year-old TV Land president, "are [shows and commercials] that embrace Baby Boomers directly — we know you, we are you, we are for you."
This scenario isn't likely to change anytime soon, predicted Bob Wendover, director of the Center for Generational Studies. "I see it becoming much more pronounced," Wendover said. "Baby Boomers are not adapting to other types of technologies as fast as other generations, but they are checking out the other choices [besides TV]," he continued. "Not to mention the fact their kids are helping them to do so."Asked if TV Land's concept of showing reruns remembered by Boomers is growing stale, Jones responded it was not. Still, he acknowledged "an opportunity to expand beyond classic shows, into movies and original programming." The network, which has targeted Boomers since its launch in 1996, claims to be seen in about 87 million homes.
Beginning in 2007, TV Land will introduce six to eight new series a year as well as special programs, including the second season of "Sit Down Comedy With David Steinberg," premiering Feb. 21, in which the comedian will interview stand-up comics like Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Roseanne Barr and Robin Williams. Also on tap is a pilot for a reality show, "Family Foreman," focusing on the life of former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, whom Jones described as "the poster boy for Baby Boomers who have reinvented the second part of their lives."
"Family Foreman" is one of a few reality shows on TV Land's 2007 schedule, but Wendover believes the format lacks appeal for the post-World War II generation. "Reality programs have separated the Boomers [from TV], if only subconsciously, as Boomers have grown up experiencing real life, rather than living vicariously," he observed.
As for commercials, the greatest opportunity lies in messages that are neither flip nor mean- spirited, said Jones. Though hard-pressed to come up with some that were making an effective appeal to the 40-to-60 crowd, he cited the pharmaceutical and financial services sectors as "leading the way," and credited J.C. Penney's recent TV spots and Dove for its well-chronicled, real-women theme in 2005.
Apparel manufacturers, which have largely overlooked the Boomer consumer, are projected to spend a slim $405 million of the $65 billion in outlays for TV commercials expected for 2006, according to Jon Swallen, a senior vice president at TNS Media Intelligence. But they may want to reconsider.
"America became a youth-oriented culture with the Boomers — they invented the 18-to-34 demographic," Jones recounted. "Now they're inventing the 25-to-54 demo."
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