It's an open industry secret: The standard demo breaks of 18-49 and 25-54 are hopelessly out of date and don't reflect the true value of today's consumers and their buying power. The industry has been slow to change. But for the past couple of years, A+E Networks has diligently worked with agencies to integrate broader demographic breaks within traditional linear deals, packaged with digital and social wherever it makes sense.
The need for this transition has become more pressing, noted Pam Gibbons, Senior Vice President Advertising Sales, A+E Networks. "The migration to the different content platforms has gotten more dramatic, and it's become obvious that traditional breaks of 18-49 and 25-54 just don't make sense anymore," she said.
To that end, an effort was made "to think ahead and keep our business in a healthy place," she added. "A few years ago, we realized something significant needs to change to keep things moving forward."
Working Early, Revising Perceptions
Gibbons and the A+E team implemented a focused, consultative strategy. "We started conversations with agencies and clients in late 2019, early 2020, bringing research to them, showing the audience migration, and -- most importantly -- stressing the value of the older audience," she recalled.
Arguably one of the last prejudices in media relates to the 55+ cohort, which has changed over the last 25 years, Gibbons noted. "It's not just how big of a part of society 55+ is, but how much money they're spending, how they are making decisions and how they are working longer." The old way of thinking about older adults -- as people who only want to buy the same brands that they've always gravitated toward -- is no longer valid.
"Research proves this out," she asserted. Armed with compelling data, Gibbons and her team began having conversations with buyers well ahead of actual marketplace negotiations. "There were a lot of obstacles," she said. "Some adapted to it quicker than others, but we've been digging in, account by account, and have certainly had great success already."
Changing the Ad Options
The A+E team offers several solutions. "Our philosophy was to bring to light who you're reaching and in which places," Gibbons explained. "Research shows the migration of younger viewers to TV everywhere platforms, but it's still TV content, and we still believe that linear television remains the best medium for selling products and services at scale."
One of their new solutions is the A+E Weekend Originals block, which challenges the traditional mindset that premium programming is only scheduled in prime. "We are seeing premium pricing across our Weekend Original programming," Gibbons noted.
In addition, A+E is also in the marketplace "in a pretty big way" with audience targeting solutions, especially for those clients who push back on targeting older demographics, whether because of the ad category or product.
"It wasn't something that we forced on people," Gibbons added. "We see benefits on both sides of the table recognizing the value of linear TV and all these different buckets. There are all these ways that we can help clients get what they need without using the traditional ways of doing it, like just [focusing] on 18-49 and 25-54."
Advertiser Response and Next Steps
The new approaches have caught on. "The response was pretty great in the Upfront marketplace," Gibbons said. "Close to 80 advertisers expanded their demo beyond the traditional 18-49 and 25-54 break, and close to half of our Upfront revenue is now on a new break. We really had tremendous success."
Still, Gibbons said there's more work to do. "The conversation is ongoing as we move into the '22 planning cycle," she explained. "We've already had several meetings, which is hard to believe. It seems like the Upfront season never ends anymore."
She also believes that the tide is turning for the expansion of audience demographic breaks. "We made some really significant gains," she concluded. "We've all been talking about the change of our industry for so long, and I think we're finally going to see the payoff as we move through this broadcast year."
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