Where have all the kids gone?

The kidsFor many years the 16-to-39 demographic was highly coveted by television networks, but with ongoing competition from online platforms, some say the youth audience has deserted TV altogether. In a feature that first appeared in Encore, Amanda Meade looks at whether this is actually the case.

On Monday night, two of Australian TV’s marquee reality shows will launch their 2013 season against each other: Big Brother on Nine and The X Factor on Seven.

The original fly-on-the wall reality series and the more recent big budget talent search are both vying for the same youthful under-40 audience, a group with unreliable viewing habits but plenty of disposable income that advertisers would like to get their hands on.

So far this year, the top three shows among young Australians have been My Kitchen Rules (Seven), The Voice (Nine) and The Block Sky High (Nine).

Seven programmer Angus Ross says Australian reality shows dominate the lucractive 16-to-39 demographic but both Seven and Nine have not always been this popular with youth audiences. According to figures supplied by Seven, the network has had more young viewers in 2011, 2012 and 2013 than any other time in the last decade.

Click to enlarge the graph

Click to enlarge the graph which shows the rise and fall of the 16-to-39 demo in the last eight years.

Although this has since fallen away slightly for Seven, Ten has been harder hit. Ten lost 13.4 per cent of 16-to-39s in this time, Seven lost 2.7 per cent in the first half of this year and 3.3 per cent last year. Nine was the only network to see the 16-to-39 demographic increase with a rise of 6.7 per cent from 2011 to 2012, followed by a further 3.9 per cent increase in the first half of 2013. It’s also worth noting that overall, live free-to-air night-time viewing has decreased by 12 per cent for total audience, with a three per cent drop for the three main commercial channels alone.

While shows like Big Brother and The X Factor appeal to a youth audience, Seven and Nine have never made a point of solely targetting this age bracket, unlike Ten until recently.

Ten – previously the home of event TV with the original Big Brother and the now-defunct Australian Idol – once owned the demo but the network’s new CEO Hamish McLennan has publicly disavowed it in favour of an older, more stable demographic of 25-to-54. “The younger demo are not watching TV like they used to,” McLennan said at last month’s Mumbrella360 conference.

While it is certainly true they’re not watching Channel Ten like they used to when it was unapologetic about being the youth network, audiences under the age of 40 have not abandoned free-to-air television altogether. According to OzTAM survey year data, Ten’s share of 16-to-39s dropped 13.4 per cent from 2011 to 2012 and 16.3 per cent from 2012 to the year to date. While in total people the network trimmed 11.1 per cent off its share, the biggest loss was in the under-40s.

Click to enlarge the chart

Click to enlarge the chart to see the 16-to-39 demo on Seven, Nine and Ten in the last three years.

“We would go out of business if we stayed with our traditional demographic of 16-to-39,” McLennan said at Mumbrella360. “That was a massive issue for us. We were getting caught in a narrow band because a lot of viewers in that demo are [recording] or downloading content.”

Seven’s Ross is blunt in his assessment of McLennan’s comments. “Ten is the only commercial network with a decreasing number of younger viewers. They are still watching TV in large numbers,” he says.

“Ten is trying to turn a Ten problem into an industry problem – you will find Seven and Nine are very pleased with their 16-to-39 performance.”

Another argument is that youth audiences, typically more willing to adopt new offerings, have become fragmented by the digital channels. Ten’s McLennan seems to think so.

“The thing that hurt Ten was the advent of the digital channels,” he said at Mumbrella360.

Research provided by analyst Steve Allen from Fusion Strategy supports this claim and shows that digital channels have taken away 25 per cent of the live peak metro free-to-air audience – and mostly from Ten. Seven’s Ross says his network’s digital offerings are certainly appealing to youthful audiences. “7Mate is the leading digital channel in men 16-to-39 and 25-to-54. This is through a combination of targeted US and UK product plus local commissions like Outback Truckers,” says Ross.

Analysis from Fusion Strategy shows that for 16-to-39 year olds, the most popular digital channels are Nine’s GO!, 7Mate and Ten’s Eleven, in that order.

Nine programming executive Hamish Turner, who has responsibility for scheduling digital channels Gem and GO!, says the 16-to-39s are a broad range of viewers who, while difficult to tie down as they watch more TV online and eschew traditional viewing habits, are growing steadily across Nine’s three channels. “What Ten’s Hamish probably meant is that they are harder to get at because their viewing is so broad,” says Turner. “They are quite industrious and seek out their own viewing. The content they want to watch is ubiquitous and they will watch it when they want to watch it.

“They will have their Foxtel Go apps, their ABC iView apps and all these things that enable them to watch across myriad platforms. It’s harder to get them sitting there at 8.30 on a Monday night. Having said that, if you’ve got event television like Big Brother then they’ll come in droves.

“They get their news but they get it through a range of places, online or on their iPad. The 6pm news is very much a 40-plus franchise.”

While Ten is busy getting out of the youth game, another channel is looking to get in. SBS2 relaunched earlier this year as “a bold, provocative channel for younger audiences aged 16-to-39”.

“SBS2 is about re-engaging SBS with younger audiences,” Tony Iffland, SBS’s director of TV and online content, told Encore. “We did a lot of research around what that audience may be like and we came up with the phrase ‘the thinking 20 and 30 somethings’; the generation that is the most travelled, has the best education and is accepting of diversity. It’s harder to serve them on the main channel as their viewing is promiscuous.

“There would be some crossover with a Big Brother audience but it is slightly different. We wanted to create something that was unique. We want those people that are caught between the wild exuberance of youth and the embracing of responsibility.” Thus far, SBS2 has failed to pull a significant audience commanding only 0.5 to 0.7 per cent free-to-air channel share in recent weeks.

Seven’s Ross agrees that young people are promiscuous viewers and that they like to be early adopters of edgy programs but in reality, these sorts of shows are unlikely to appear on networks like his as they don’t have a broad appeal.

“The appeal of the big commercial networks is that you can attract the big, broader audience for the advertiser, so it’s dangerous territory to exclusively target 16-to-39s,” he says.

Fusion Strategy’s Allen, who independently verified the data used in this piece, says that while younger audiences may be fragmenting, the key driver for them switching off the box is not platform competition.

“The decline in 16-to-39 viewing is by no means explained away by take-up in alternative media channels. The biggest problem for free-to-air and especially for Ten is not enough new hit younger programming and no recent big break-out,” says Allen.

While Seven and Nine will be watching closely next week when their reality juggernauts get the ball rolling, the two networks at least have the comfort of proven performance for the formats. Ten, on the other hand, is taking a punt on unproven programs The Bachelor and local drama Wonderland. Yet if they get it right, it would seem that the audience is there for the taking.
Encore Issue 24

This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.


  1. Bem
    26 Jul 13
    9:20 am

  2. Wow, how dellusional are these network heads?
    The networks have treated viewers like crap for years. Delayed releases, scattered programming and a general contempt for the viewer. Our generation, this 16-39 demo, got sick of it. And we just found our own way to watch what we want to watch, without the networks.
    So what do they do? Complain. And what do they offer us to actually come to their network? Stripped back reality show after reality show or lower-middle class family dramas. Where’s the diversity in programming? When’s the last time you saw an Australian comedy on network television? Sci-fi? Thriller? Nothing but drama and reality.
    Of course we’re not going to watch. But they do nothing to rectify the situation. They should be trying everything they can to get this demo on board with them. We’re the future. If not, they’ll go the way of the newspapers. Currently, Australian television is a lame duck in waiting. They don’t have to be, but I can’t see the networks changing.

  3. Switching off
    26 Jul 13
    10:55 am

  4. Where have the kids gone?

    Reddit, KiK, YouTube, Instagram and, off course, Pirate Bay.

  5. Colin savage
    26 Jul 13
    11:06 am

  6. Totally agree with Bem above. Tv networks treated the dem like crap so dem went straight to the source and downloaded the whole series.

    Have to cater to the viewer thesedays not vice versa.

    Most people i know use a vpn to get netflix.

    Oz tv networks are dinosaurs

  7. Paul Eveleigh
    26 Jul 13
    11:26 am

  8. TV networks try to appeal to 16-to-39 year-olds. Which age group has the highest spending power? The over 50s. Go figure.

  9. Encyclic!
    26 Jul 13
    12:04 pm

  10. I’m 24 and dont’ watch TV because it’s complete drivel.

    Meanwhile, the internet beckons.

  11. Turbo
    26 Jul 13
    12:07 pm

  12. There is not one valid reason for a young person to tune into a FTA television network anymore. Not one. The networks are delusional to think they would choose shitty derivative mindless concepts (usually franchises that repeat themselves year-on-year) full of wallpaper advertising and shoehorned with blunt-force “integration”. They’re as dead as a dodo.

    Tune into Big Brother to see this year’s “twist” (wait, let me guess – someone is a hermaphridite)? Please, it’s offensive.

    I haven’t even owned an aerial cord for years.

    “TV” to young people these days simply means the large screen that you plug your media-device into. Why wouldn’t you choose to watch ad-free programming that has actual production values; allows you to watch it when you want; and doesn’t jam advertising down your throat featuring zombie-like morons waggling red fingers at you.

  13. RR
    26 Jul 13
    1:41 pm

  14. I stopped watching TV in 2010 – when I was about 20. I still have to buy it though, I don’t know what I’m buying but it all sounds like rubbish.

  15. RR
    26 Jul 13
    1:42 pm

  16. *Actually it was 2006/2007

  17. Encyclic!
    26 Jul 13
    1:46 pm

  18. I mean sure, I’d watch TV if I had an HTPC, but then I’d be watching stuff that I either bought on DVD, or downloaded. Why on earth would I waste my time watching Australian reality TV all bloody day?

  19. Ricki
    26 Jul 13
    1:47 pm

  20. I’m not in that target demo…in fact I’m over 40.

    However recently my TV of 6 years died and the cost to repair it was more than a replacement. I didn’t have time to make a purchase so spent about two weeks without a TV and honestly…it didn’t bother me at all. I was able to watch anything I wanted via ‘catch up TV’ apps or itunes (I used to be a pirate but I do try to remember that creative people need to get paid for the work they do so don’t steal content like I used to). I also discovered a whole bunch of new programmes that our networks have passed over for one reason or another. And I can watch it when and how it suits me.

    Point is…FTA TV just isn’t the ‘must have’ it once was. Now if I’ve figured it out at my advanced age (over 40 being ancient in ad circles) I’m pretty sure most of the kids have come to that conclusion sooner than me.

    I did end up buying a TV but it’s a small one I can also use as a computer monitor and I really don’t feel like I need much else at this point.

  21. BIlly C
    26 Jul 13
    2:47 pm

  22. I know people who live in share houses who don’t have a tv. They just all use their laptops or ipads. Live sport is on at the pub.

  23. John
    26 Jul 13
    4:34 pm

  24. As a result sporting organisations are cleaning up on broadcast rights as this is the only stable format left for network TV.

    No one knows what will be popular in 5 years, except sport will still get predicable ratings. Australians will always watch Cricket, AFL, NRL and Tennis.

  25. David Hague
    26 Jul 13
    10:03 pm

  26. Oh for goodness sake…. people WILL watch stuff they WANT to see. In all demographics … Errr… so make that content. How hard cam that be to undersatnd?

    Can I send the bill for consultancy to someone. I reckon its worth $10K. For each network (except the ABC that has it right. iView is superb. Commercial TV equivalents are CRAP!)

  27. Craig
    27 Jul 13
    5:47 am

  28. I am an ex-pat living in NZ, and if you think Australian TV is crap, don’t come here. Saying that, I use a VPN to get my Australian content, along with a larger than most satellite dish. I NEVER watch regular tv anymore, as all the FTA channels broadcast the same crap, year after year after year. The only decent stuff is on iView or SBS On Demand. FTA channels can go to hell for all I care. Their ‘local’ content is laughable, and generally dire. Long live the ABC and SBS.

  29. Anonymous
    29 Jul 13
    7:00 pm

  30. It doesn’t have to be like this. Kids have gone away from TV because kids are the hardest audience to fool.

    I started my career in children’s theatre 45 years ago, believe me, kids will spot a fake or a fraud a mile away, and if you fail to keep them interested they can be very unforgiving.

    Remember, ten years is bugger all, and that’s all it takes for a kid to become an adult . Lose them for 12 months and you’ve lost them for good.

    When theatre was partially eclipsed by cinema which in turn was itself damaged by television in the late 50s, they didn’t curl up and die; both theatre and cinema forged ahead and lifted their game, and they are still with us today.

    Television, once an art form, has been operated by greedy “corporate wallies” “easy come charlies” and frauds for years, as soon as it experienced a challenge, it fell over and started kicking and screaming.

    The guaranteed big bucks and the easy roll has gone, now its time to start behaving like television producers and actually produce television. Get good at what you used to be good at before you started shoving people around and grabbing the loot.

    Producing News coverage, documentaries and dramas takes real qualified people who know what they are doing, not inflated business degree holders who wear the right clothes and attend all the meetings.

    You cannot run a medium as diverse and demanding as television, by acquiring a business degree and setting up a company, you need a team, a family of committed people who are given the facilities to concentrate upon their craft and to grow a productive department which you ( with your business degree) can learn how to run smoothly and to mutual benefit.

    Its quite amazing to discover what audience loyalty will bring you , once you earn it, by giving them quality viewing.

    Oh, and stop looking to the US for inspiration, this is Australia.

  31. Encyclic!
    29 Jul 13
    8:31 pm

  32. What does Free to air provide, as a platform, that’s

    1) different to other forms of media

    2) superior to other forms of media

    Because from what Aussie FTA is telling me and my generation, it provides endless Bert Newton, crappy Reality TV, and all the ads I can eat. WITH A TWIST! OMG

    Hell, even iTunes TV is superior because it provides me what I want to watch at an agreed price that isn’t obnoxious.

    “But free to air is free, dummy”

    Yes, but the chief failing of FTA TV is that the ads are bad enough to turn mediocre content into completely unwatchable drivel. If I offered you a free turd on a stale bun, it wouldn’t entice you to take it, would I?

    And Subscription TV ads? Oh come on guys, you’re already paying a fee to access the channels. Ad Revenue on subscription TV is quite literally Foxtel having it’s cake whilst eating it.

  33. Richard Moss
    30 Jul 13
    10:56 am

  34. @ Encyclic!

    Good questions, no answer today, but once upon a time in television land, there were definite answers to those questions.

    Early television was radio with pictures, later came cinematic and theatrical pretensions and eventually mature television.

    Following the second world war, the US perfected the blend between commercial financing and artistic, newsworthy and entertainment endeavors; the sweet stream turned into a river and later a flood of wealth, which, instead of further strengthening the art form, attracted greedy media men (so called) and bean counters who weakened it.

    The world wide web arrived with such momentum that it created a vacuum powerful enough to drain the flood and leave the ailing FTA Television high and dry.

    Australia came late to television and adopted the model already set out by the US, we also rode the flood wave and eventually landed upon a sand dune, a different dune to that of the US, one more remote and a lot drier.

  35. john
    30 Jul 13
    12:42 pm

  36. The reality is that most targeted group are 25-45 year old couples and families. These are the people with the most income and they spend the most of it.

    Actually young people are skint, and the over 50s, while wealthy, are tightwads and demand continually that “the gummint” give them everything for free.

    The youth market (16-25) is only important in establishing brand reputation so that they buy products when they start families and actually spend money.
    I’m not sure they would have that much interest in the main analogue TV channels, which seem to mainly consist of song contests, dull US cop programs, and news and current affairs stories about old and ugly “battlers”.

  37. Brad
    5 Aug 13
    9:15 am

  38. Oh you like to download? Make sure Murdoch doesn’t kill the NBN with his anti labour headlines…