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The declining ratings do not lie: Traditional television is in trouble. Younger viewers have abandoned it, and the median age of viewers that remain continues to increase. Last season’s top-rated show had a median viewer age of 52.9 years, and many members of the coveted Millennial and Z Generations no longer even own a television. Brands and advertisers have taken note, meaning that the future of national television advertising sales may be in jeopardy. For the networks, these developments raise serious questions about how to move forward and reengage both sides of the platform, that is, viewers and advertisers alike.

Magna, the media division of IPG Mediabrands, projects that national television advertising sales will decline at least 2 percentage points per year through 2022. Brands and advertisers are shifting their money to digital campaigns that are more likely to connect with younger audiences. Spending on social media platforms and Google’s YouTube now accounts for far greater percentages of media campaign budgets, pulling more and more dollars away from televised ads. Some firms are also trying creative approaches, such as negotiating deals for direct product placements and integration into popular television shows in lieu of traditional commercials.

Viewers report frustration with advertisements as one of the main reasons they have turned away from television and sought out entertainment from other channels, such as YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu. For networks that rely on advertising dollars to be profitable, this conflict between advertisers and viewers is difficult to resolve. Both NBCUniversal and Fox Networks Group have announced plans to reduce the amount of advertising time they sell during shows, in an effort to woo back viewers. Fox even hopes to trim ad time to just 2 minutes per hour by the year 2020. Both networks hope that if the number of viewers increase, advertisers will be willing to pay a premium for the limited available space, and television can return to its status as one of the most valuable platforms for advertising.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are fewer younger people watching television?
  2. Using the information in this article, consider what kinds of products you think should advertise on television, rather than other media channels. Whom should they target?

Source: Sapna Maheshwari and John Koblin, “Why Traditional TV Is in Trouble,” The New York Times, May 13, 2018. See also Brian Steinberg, “How TV Tuned in to More Ad Dollars: Drug Money, Digital Doldrums Kept Madison Ave. Attention on Linear Viewers,” Variety, July 26, 2018