The median age of a TV viewer is now 54. Has advertising basically become a junk science?

Amen, Homer. We were all taught to believe that the central idea of advertising was to capture the attention (and later the wallet) of 18 to 49 year-olds. Here’s a problem now, though: those people aren’t necessarily watching TV anymore. In the past 20 years, the median age of TV watchers went from 41 to 54 (a 13-year jump); at the same time, all of America went from 34 to 37 (a 3-year jump). Basically, the TV viewer sub-demographic is graying four times as fast as America as a whole. And then get this:

 In the 1993-94 broadcast season,Home Improvement was the most-watched show, with a median viewer of 34, Commercial Appeal reports. Today, it’s NCIS, with a median viewer who is 61.

Meanwhile, here’s a pretty basic chart on how much ad money is spent on TV vs. digital:


Hmmm. So advertisers are throwing billions of dollars at the TV screen, but predominantly they’re reaching people in their 60s, while they assume they’re reaching people in their 30s and 40s? That seems dubious. Maybe the bigger issue here is making TV into something younger people can connect with again — which is beginning to happen in some ways — or maybe advertising has become a junk science. (Or maybe it’s that the advertising on TV model has been around for so long, and people are comfortable within it, whereas the advertising online model is more confusing to people and the numbers don’t seem as big.) People absolutely love to see big numbers associated with their content, even if they don’t completely know what they’re tracking. (You see these types of confusion all across the media landscape, honestly.)

TL:DR for this? TV isn’t going away anytime soon as the primary place that big companies advertise, but they’re not exactly reaching their true target anymore either.

Ted Bauer


  1. One of the main reasons ad dollars haven’t gone from TV to digital to as great an extent as you’d imagine is because it’s easier to measure digital ROI to find out how bad it is vs. TV where all you have are platitudes about “brand awareness” and no real numbers on specific ad-caused conversions.

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