Golden oldies

12 Sep 2018  |  Raymond Snoddy 
Golden oldies

We are routinely and rightly exercised by the politics of equality - but poor old ageism, so far as the media and communications industries are concerned, gets pushed down the emotional pecking order, writes Raymond Snoddy. Let's change that.

Both the television and the advertising industries stumble over each other in their scramble to reach the young. Come on guys, bring on the 16-34-year-olds they say, while there is no sign of a chase of any kind after the 55 to 74-year-old market.

After all, how uncool would that be?

Both industries are remarkably silly in their choice of targets, and they have been told as much decade after decade, but they don’t seem to pay a blind bit of attention.

The advertising industry, in particular, seems like a bunch of Peter Pans, forever young, trapped in the midst of their programmatic algorithms, set in the direction of young consumers.

Even the bots and the purveyors of fake news and political subversion are young.

New research on the future of television by consultants Deloitte, to be unveiled in conjunction with next week’s Royal Television Society conference in London, suggests opportunities are being missed in everything from conventional TV advertising to SVOD (subscription video on demand).

First let’s concentrate on the wonga, something which tends to get most people’s attention.

According to Deloitte the 55-74 cohort controls half of the UK’s £12.8 trillion in wealth.

How do the 16 to 34 year-old shape up by comparison?

That will be 3.3 per cent of the total, a percentage that should be tattooed on the foreheads of an ad executive or two.

Is there any rational explanation for the disparity between the pursuit of the young by the ad world and their relative neglect of those who control the money and spending?

It depends on products, though perhaps less than you would think, as the over 55s buy products and services not just for themselves but also for their children and grandchildren.

Is it the old story that advertisers want to get them when they are young to mould future consumer behaviour?

If it were ever true, it hardly is now. Most of the 55+ are smarter consumers these days, switching and changing brands in search of the best deals alongside everyone else.

Many are not planning to retire anytime soon and they are certainly not sitting in their slippers in front of the fire.

One in four singles aged 50-64 is actively dating and they spend more on dates than their younger brethren because they are wealthier. And unsurprisingly, the over 50s are spending more on holidays as others are forced to cut back. Over the five years to 2016 spending on travel by the over 50s increased by 23 per cent, but fell 5 per cent among the under 50s.

You would think more effort would be put into communicating with them, although those behind the travel supplements in papers such as The Times and the Daily Telegraph clearly know a thing or two, particularly about where their economic self-interest lies.

We are routinely and rightly exercised by the politics of gender, transgender, diversity, equality, and sexual equality while poor old-fashioned ageism, so far as the media and communications industries are concerned, gets pushed down the emotional pecking order.

As for television, the enthusiastic support of the over 55s is a mixed blessing. They watch lots and lots of the stuff – a third of the population and half of all viewing. Unfortunately, probability theory tells us they also have a tendency to die, or “pass away” as the fans of euphemisms would have it.

Here’s the good and bad news about “mature” viewers to use another euphemism, and the pesky, shameless, behaviour of the 16-24-year-olds who spend more time on Netflix than all of the BBC programmes, including those accessed via iPlayer.

The overall picture seems stable. Minutes of traditional television viewed within seven days of first broadcast have declined by a modest average of 2.3 per cent a year between 2010 and 2017.

But the average hides a lot that is going on underneath the bonnet.

Between 2010 and 2017 daily consumption of traditional television amongst younger age groups dropped dramatically from 169 minutes to 100 minutes among 16 to 24 year olds, a decline of 42 per cent, or 6 per cent a year.

Amongst 55-64 year olds the decline was a total of 8 per cent and the consumption of the over 65s barely changed, rising one minute to 343 minutes over the years.

That was then, what is happening now with an explosion of SVOD options, some as Deloitte says, costing little more than pocket money?

The interesting thing is that the mature cohorts are changing almost as much as everyone else - but with a time lag.
The key comes from adaption rates for such things as smartphones and instant messaging.

In 2012 around 29 per cent of 55-75 year-olds had a smartphone while by 2017 no less than 71 per cent had one and the percentage is still rising, although levels of usage vary greatly.

The likelihood is that we are entering the era of “the Silver VODers” and that this transition is probably inevitable and irreversible as more and more viewers get access to superfast or fibre-to the home connections whatever their age.

The movement is helped by the propensity of almost everyone to move up to smart TV sets, increasingly 4G, as manufacturers barely offer ordinary HD sets any more and steer viewers towards upgrades.

Older viewers are also being nudged towards on-demand by younger generations in their family and the 3.4 million 20-34-year-olds who still live in the family home, an all-time high.

By 2023 viewers aged 50+ could watch a fifth of all television content on demand.

The challenge for traditional broadcasters is to intervene and lead that move towards demand viewing, or lose a significant slice of the viewing of their most loyal consumers to the international players.

Maybe they should also think a bit more about directing advertising to the over 55s.

A look at the viewing behaviour of the over 55s is highlighted in a series of Deloitte audio podcasts looking at the future of TV, hosted by myself.

They include an examination of the move from fragmentation to atomisation of audiences, the resilience of television advertising and the continuing dominance of the living room by the bigger and better TV set.

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