Old News

Click to view: 1977 KMBC-TV Kansas City newscast, complete with wood-paneled set and pink-suited reporter (Copyright © KMBC-TV)

Most of us can recall at least one occasion where we’ve come across something on television that was so boring or repulsive that we asked ourselves, “My God, who watches this stuff?”

The easiest way of figuring that out is to watch the commercials. If they show a bunch of young guys getting together for a good time, it’s safe to assume that the audience is heavily skewed toward males aged 18-29. If the ads are for prestigious Wall Street investment firms and high-end hotel chains, however, the audience is more likely skewed toward middle-aged and older professionals.

Spend half an hour watching CBC News Network and — despite the youthfulness of newer personalities such as Nil Koksal and Kalin Mitchell — you’ll quickly get the sense that the viewership of all-news channels skews toward the 55-plus demographic. Young adults, after all, are not key customers of no-medical-exam-required life insurance, Grey Power car insurance, contraptions that make it easier to get in and out of the bathtub or of the various other advertisers that help keep the CBC News Network on the air.

The same demographic skew exists south of the border. New research this week shows that Fox News has one of the oldest audiences among the major U.S. cable networks (median age: 65 years), followed by CNN (63 years). Network news programs also tend to attract a more mature demographic: the typical “60 Minutes” viewer is 61 years old, while the typical “Dateline Sunday” viewer is just three years younger.

Their children are more likely to be watching lighter fare when they turn on the television. The typical “Family Guy” viewer is 30 years old, making it one of U.S. network television’s youngest shows. “The Office” (median age: 35 years) and “Scrubs” (38 years) also tend to attract a younger audience.

Surely this news must give pause to backers of the proposed Sun News Channel, which some have billed as “Fox News North” in recognition of Sun Media’s small-c conservative leanings. Not only would a new all-news channel fragment a Canadian market that is only a fraction the size of the neighbouring U.S. market — and less partisan to boot — they would also be dependent on many of the same accounts that CBC News Network and CTV News Channel depend on. Then again, perhaps their plan is to force one of the two incumbents out of the game. Only they would know for sure.

It also makes you wonder if the greying of the all-news audience portends a less well-informed Canada of the future. The old way of watching the news — a 10 p.m. date with Knowlton Nash or an 11 p.m. session with Lloyd Robertson — might be old-fashioned and no longer practical in an era when you can click on the stories that interest you and ignore the rest, but at least you learned bits and pieces about politics and the economy while you were waiting to hear about the latest celebrity scandal.

Now… who cares about China or what effect interest rates will have on your household finances when your mortgage comes up for renewal? Lohan’s in trouble again!

On the bright side, we’ll simply do what human beings have always done when confronted with a changing world: adapt to it. And instead of hearing about what effect events overseas might have on Canadians’ lives from CBC’s Peter Mansbridge and CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme, we’ll get Family Guy‘s Peter and Lois Griffin to raise the subject.

On a completely different subject, several of us Winnipeg bloggers are making plans to converge later this month for beers and to finally meet one another in person. Visit the Winnipeg Bloggers group on Facebook or contact me via e-mail (mcdougak[at]mts.net) to find out more.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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