ABC Catches Up With NBC Among Watchers With Wallets

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, November 4, 2005

If you are between the ages of 25 and 54 and recently dropped $1,400 for an Hermes crocodile-and-calfskin leash-and-collar set for little Fluffy, you need to read the following important information carefully:

NBC is no longer the broadcast network for affluent viewers. It is now safe to acknowledge publicly that you watch ABC.

Through the first six weeks of the new television season, ABC has caught up to NBC in terms of audience skewed toward 25-to-54-year-olds in homes with incomes of $100,000 or more, according to Nielsen stats as crunched by media buyer Magna Global, an agency that makes ad-buying decisions for sponsor clients.

Having a lock on the upscale audience has been important to NBC. When NBC could no longer boast that it was the country's most watched network, when it could no longer even brag that it was the country's most watched network among young viewers, it could still crow when it pitched to advertisers and the press that it was the network of choice among wealthier viewers.

And all things being equal, advertisers will pay more to reach people who have a lot of money than they will to reach the same number of people who do not.

Which helps explain why, for instance, NBC renewed the barely watched "The Office" for a second season in May, and why the network put two simultaneous editions of "The Apprentice" on its fall schedule.

"The Apprentice" has the highest proportion so far this season of 25-to-54-year-olds in households with an annual income of $100,000, according to Magna Global's stats. Yes, it's clocking about 6 million fewer viewers than the first round of "The Apprentice" last season, but the crowd that's left is well off financially.

"The Office," meanwhile, averaged a measly 5.4 million viewers last season, which put it toward the bottom of the heap when it came to overall audience size. (This season it's doing slightly better, with an average haul of 8 million.) But it's a Top 5 show this season among those 25-to-54-year-olds with $100K on them.

CBS's "CSI," which is the most watched show in the country, averaging nearly 28 million viewers, has more rich 25-to-54-year-olds watching, but they're less concentrated. Think of "The Office" audience as the membership of your country club -- not many of them, but what there is is rich.

"Desperate Housewives," on the other hand, has the overall tonnage of "CSI" -- it's the second most watched show this season, with an average of about 24 million viewers -- and also skews high among affluent 25-to-54-year-olds. It's okay to tell members of that country club you love "Desperate Housewives." Ditto "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost" -- those three sophomore shows have catapulted ABC into the Firmament of Rich People Viewing.

According to the Magna Global stats, "The Apprentice" indexes at 205 among 25-to-54-year-olds with household income of $100,000. A show that skews at 100 has an audience concentration of such people that reflects their numbers in the general population. "The Apprentice's" 205 means that its audience is about twice as thick with rich 25-to-54-year-olds. Sweet.

(Oh, and the guy who did this report for Magna Global said in an interview recently that he used 25-to-54-year-olds for this study, instead of the Holy Grail -- 18-to-49-year-olds -- in order to weed out all those 18-to-24s whose household income is $100,000 only because they're living at home off of Mummy and Dad.)

NBC notes that its prime-time programming skews more upscale this season than last. Which is to say that while NBC has fumbled about 5 percent of the audience it had at the same time last year, it is losing audience quickest among people with less money; richer folk continue to hang around.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company