Last week in The New York Times, a spate of network TV executives decried Nielsen over the missing young men crisis of last fall, saying that improved ratings for that demographic over the past few quarters actually proved to be incriminating for the measurement monopoly, which they believe had been making adjustments to its flawed methodology all the way.
A new report from media consultancy Magna Global USA, "Primetime Viewing Among Young Men Revisited," points the finger elsewhere--namely at the US networks' programming and the young men themselves, which it refers to as "flukey."
In last week's Times article, executives took Nielsen to task for last autumn's major ratings drop-offs among men ages 18-34 (which were at one point down roughly 14 percent), saying that such sizable drops were unprecedented, and that Nielsen ratings tend to move glacially.
"This is not unprecedented, and these numbers don't move glacially," said Magna Global's research chief Steve Sternberg in a rebuttal. "Young men's TV usage is flukey. As we've seen a number of times, it is always driven by what is on the air."
Sternberg's report points out that since the beginning of the season, when the networks aired a host of programmes aimed primarily at women, men--particularly the younger 18-24 segment--have gradually returned to the networks as shows like "The Apprentice, "Simple Life 2," and the "Last Comic Standing 2" took off in the second half of the season.
The report also digs into the heart of the ratings declines, which Sternberg says appear worse than they really are. While ratings are down 9 percent for men ages 18-24 versus last season, total usage numbers for that demographic have dipped from 25 percent to 23 percent, or just two percentage points. "In other words, men 18-24 television usage was extremely low to begin with," says the report.
In total, US men ages 18-24 are watching a half-hour less TV than last season and only 19 fewer minutes of network TV, says Sternberg--not entirely unusual for a demographic that has demonstrated similar volatility in recent years. While the networks scramble to bring back some of these migrated males, cable--which
more often specifically caters to their interest--is gaining. Ratings for men ages 18-34 are up 14 percent in the third quarter on ad-supported cable, according to the report.
Cable shows like "Rescue Me" and "Stargate: SG-1" seem to prove that if you programme, men will watch. "People don't watch network television simply because it is there," said Sternberg. "It's got to have programming they want to watch."