"It's very weird," says Shari Anne Brill, vice president-director of programming at Carat USA. Usage "levels for men 18 to 24 seem to be coming back in recent weeks, but now its down for older male demos."
While the broadcast networks may be heartened by the resurfacing of younger men, the disappearance of older ones is no less of a marketplace concern. Since most network ad deals are actually guaranteed on either men 18 to 34, or men 18 to 49 breaks, the erosion of the 25- to 34-year-olds could have just as significant consequence on network economics as the disappearance of 18- to 24-year-olds during the first six weeks of the primetime season.
"The numbers appear to be bouncing around week to week," says Brill, noting that the reemergence of younger male viewers happens to coincide with the resumption of Fox's Sunday night lineup, a schedule that generally appeals to teen and young adult males. And the drop in older male viewers corresponds with the end of Fox's post-season baseball coverage. In other words, Brill says the shifts are "flaky but real" and reflect changes in the appeal of TV programming, not necessarily Nielsen Media Research's research methods.
That point has been echoed by others, including Nielsen itself, as well as Interpublic's Magna Global USA unit, though broadcast network executives maintain Nielsen is at fault.
"I think there are ongoing methodology issues that have always been there with Nielsen. This is not new. It's not a complete measurement system. It was designed to capture household-based viewing and increasingly viewing is taking place outside the home," says Brill, who nonetheless believes the vagaries in Nielsen's measurement process are not at fault in the male viewing fluctuations.
Brill advised Carat's clients of as much in a white paper distributed this week, but she says she will continue to monitor the situation and does not believe a clear pattern will emerge until after the November sweeps.
"Fox, just launched their fall season and that has had a big impact on young male viewers. Not just men 18 to 24, but also teens 12 to 17," she says.