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'Alpha Boomer': TV Networks' Attempt Rebrand of Older Viewers

Under pressure, the Big Four have relabeled their most loyal (and rich) demo.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

With the number of 18- to 49-year-old viewers -- long broadcast television's barometer of success -- continuing its alarming decline, the networks are stepping up their urgent quest to redefine success.

Meet the 55- to 64-year-old "alpha boomer." The buzzy moniker for America's most influential generation (and one growing every day) sounds nearly as appealing as "millennial," only long removed from Nielsen's youthful bracket of choice. August saw alpha boomers become the majority spenders on automobiles in the U.S., topping all others with an average of 6.9 new vehicle purchases per 100 drivers.

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"They're in their peak earning power, their homes are paid for, and they're entering some form of empty-nester stage," says CBS chief research officer David Poltrack, downplaying the importance of the alpha boomer's age relative to his or her consumer profile. "We're not telling people to shift their age focus wider. We're telling them to stop using age."

Rolling out a mostly united front on evolving measurements to reporters, research executives from the Big Four gathered on the Fox lot Sept. 9 and emphasized P2+, or persons age 2 and older, as the key raw number in TV. Sheer volume -- be it live, same-day, VOD or with three or seven days' worth of DVR use -- seems to be how the nets will try to define success moving forward.

"We previously moved from household ratings to the demos, so these changes are really nothing new," says NBCUniversal research president Alan Wurtzel.

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Still, it might be a tough sell. Younger viewers, with their rapidly evolving media consumption and spending potential, remain highly prized. "As you get older, a lot of your consumer inclinations are already set," says Fox research head Will Somers of his younger-skewing network. "Younger viewers are still figuring out what kind of car they want to be in, and brands want to build loyalty."