Media Content: Senior Citizens Front and Centre?

It is always reassuring to know that the ravages of late middle age don't necessarily spell catastrophe. As an IP person, this is especially so when it comes to the ability of media companies to monetize their contents. Thus an article that appeared in The Economist in its April 9th issue caught my attention. Entitled "Peggy Sue got old: Viewers, listeners and readers are ageing fast. Oddly, media companies don't regard that as a catastrophe," I was reassured and read on.

The challenge for media companies is that the average age of consumers of traditional media -- newspapers, radio and television -- is rising even more quickly than the average of of the general population. In the U.S., the average age of viewers for all television networks except for Fox is over 50; in the UK over 40% of readers of the Daily Telegraph and Daily Express are over 65. Instead of waving the white flag in the face of looming octogenerianism of consumers of media, though, media companies have allegedly discovered the potential market of this population.

For example, the CD "Dreamboats and Petticoats", a collection of 1950s vintage UK and US artists, sold enough dics to rank as a double platinum (these are real CDs, since oldsters don't download music, it is claimed). And then there is Susan Boyle, the 50-year-old Scottish singer who recently burst on to the scene and whose album "The Gift" was the top-selling album of last year.

More generally, media companies have reoriented their view of the desired target audience from the traditional 18-49-year old cohort to include the over-50 crowd. For one thing, seniors are less fixed on brands than was once thought, so there is more potential return in targeting them. For another, to paraphrase the legendary U.S. bank robber Willie Sutton, seniors "are where the money is", especially given the ravages of the Great Recession on the employment of young adults.

The article also suggests that changing views of appropriate business models for the media business support increased interest in older consumers. In an advertsing-based model, eyeballs fitting a certain profile matter most. But with the increasing interest in subscription models, you need to hone in on consumers prepared to pay for content, especially of the online variety. While subscription-based distribution is not limited to older consumers (consider, e.g., the move by Hulu to sell subscriptions to viewers of all ages), it is presumed, I guess, that older consumers still remember paying for content and therefore are less likely to have become intractably wedded to free online sites. The name of the game is to get those older viewers to pay, before they too develop antipathy for subscription-fee contents.

All of these observations are interesting, but I have a lingering feeling that the recent discovery of the importance of older consumers is a bit overstated. As an anecdote, I recall the first time that I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (full disclosure--that is my ancestral home town). The two things that most struck me about the visit were the disproportionate number of visitors who were middle age or older, and the emphasis on rock and roll music from the 1950s and 1960s.

Perhaps the two factors go together, perhaps young adults are less likely to go to museums, perhaps the admission charge dissuaded some younger visitors. Whatever the reason, what is clear is that the Museum has been around since the 1990s and that it seems to me that it has catered to an older crowd from the beginning. What may be more true is not the fact that older consumers have suddenly been discovered but rather that media companies are doing a better job of tailoring their offerings to different age groups, from the younger to the older. As a consumer of media content, better targeting would seem to be a desirable result, whatever the age.

BONUS QUESTION: One final bonus point question: How many of you younger than 45-years of age knew the reference in the title of the article to "Peggy Sue got old" (without resort to Google)?
Media Content: Senior Citizens Front and Centre? Media Content: Senior Citizens Front and Centre? Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Friday, April 29, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. Yes! Buddy Holly is my Dad's favourite pop star, and he had songs called "Peggy Sue" and (lesser-known, I think) "Peggy Sue got married". And I'm 42.

  2. "Peggy Sue got married" was also the title of a film in the 1980s, with Kathleen Turner. (I'm 41)

  3. Dear Anonymous and Anonymous

    Those are the "Peggy Sue" antecedents that I recall. The movie was in the otherwise 1980's hey-day of Kathleen Turner, but was pretty dreadful IMHO.



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