Now Madison Avenue Asks: 'Where Have All The Young Gals Gone'

Following weeks of finger pointing over a sudden decline in ratings among young adult men, the major broadcast networks are faced with an equally troubling, but somewhat less debatable decline in ratings among young adult women. Buyers suggested the latest development further reinforces the notion that the shifts taking place in TV viewing patterns are part of a fundamental change in the nature of media consumption driven by a generational shift and are not merely the result of lackluster programming or scheduling patterns.

"It's a different culture," suggests Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming at Carat USA. Brill first identified the troubling pattern over the past several weeks and began raising questions about the drop in young adult women ratings on the major broadcast networks while network and Nielsen executives were jousting over the cause of a corresponding drop in young adult men.

Now Steve Sternberg, senior vice president and director of audience analysis at powerful media buying agency Magna Global USA has weighed in with an in depth analysis of the first weeks of the new broadcast season. The report finds that the women 18-24 demographic has declined by 2.9 rating primetime points among the broadcast networks. Overall TV usage levels, while not falling as precipitously, nonetheless dropped 1.4 points from the first eight weeks of the 2002-03 season.



"Lost in the brouhaha about the decline in young male viewing to the broadcast networks, is the fact that young women are declining by even more," said Sternberg, asking, "Why has this slipped under the radar?"

Why indeed? Among the reasons cited by media buyers was the fact that, as important as young women are to many advertisers, they are not nearly as difficult to reach on TV as are young men. But the Magna report does find some equally alarming patterns among young women, including the fact that the demo's ratings on The WB network, a mainstay of programming for young women, are down by nearly a rating point.

Another reason why the networks have not exactly blown the Nielsen whistle on this one, is because unlike young men, the drop in network ratings among young women reflects, not just a drop in overall TV usage, but a shift to other TV viewing options.

"In the case of young women, who are defecting from the broadcast networks in significantly larger numbers than men, but are turning more to cable and independent stations, it's much more difficult to try and pin the blame on Nielsen," noted Sternberg.

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