REPLACEMENT AGE

One of my favorite hey-did-you-see-this stories of 2013 happened in mid-July when AC Nielsen data showed that the median Fox News viewer is so old that we don't even know how old he is. Since the company stops tracking age at 65 – it can be assumed safely, I guess, that anything marketed to a 70 year old would also be marketed to an 80 year old – and "above 65" is now statistically the majority of Fox's audience.

It is not hard to reach this conclusion without the benefit of hard data. Just watch Fox News for an hour or two and keep track of the advertisements. Hip implants. "Mobility scooters". Prescription drugs for arthritis. The companies ponying up for these ads know goddamn well who is watching before they write the check.

Despite the tremendous "passion" for which Fox News viewers are known in the media and marketing industries, it goes without saying that any business relying heavily on people who are going to die pretty soon need to think ahead. The network has attempted to "get younger" by bringing in on-air talent under 50 and promoting programming that isn't aimed at elderly white men (e.g. the Dadaist masterpiece Fox & Friends) it isn't translating into younger viewers.

But for six of the last eight years, Fox News has had a median age of 65-plus and the number of viewers in the 25-54 year old group has been falling consistently, down five years in a row in prime time, from an average of 557,000 viewers five years ago to 379,000 this year. That has occurred even though Fox’s overall audience in prime time is up this year, to 2.02 million from 1.89 million three years ago.

The network also has been faced with a recent string of nightly wins in that 25-54 audience by CNN, which had been hopelessly behind in recent years.

We needn't point out that losing to CNN is a bad sign.

I've always thought of Fox News as a means of occupying the elderly; its older viewers turn it on early in the morning and leave it on in the background all day. It is to the over 65 demographic what the Disney Channel is to kids – a product designed (flawlessly) to keep them out of the way of people who have things to do. Is that stereotyping the elderly? Sure. Some people in that age group hate Fox and are very productive. But if we're talking about means and medians and modes, we're talking about a viewer who's retired or close to it and in need of a distraction.

Most companies that market to the elderly survive because the ranks are always being replenished. That consumer who needs a hip implant might be dead in a few years but eventually you and I will become that consumer in the future. It is going to be interesting over the next decade to see if this holds true for a media network selling an intangible product. The over 65 population will peak soon and then decline rapidly barring an unexpected influx of ancient immigrants. It will be fascinating to see if future generations of elderly Americans flock to Fox in a way that they clearly are not doing as younger and middle-aged people. Has Fox created a product so specifically tailored not merely to the elderly but to a single, specific cohort of the elderly that it will die when its current viewers do?

Everything about the network is geared toward the Greatest Generation with the underlying premise that America was awesome in the Fifties and our current society has abandoned the values of that era. What is Fox going to do when its elderly viewers don't remember the Fifties? Or weren't alive yet? Or think fondly of American culture in the Sixties of their childhood? Or spent their college years in the Seventies higher than kites?

As financially successful as it is at present, Fox News obviously isn't in danger of disappearing anytime soon. It is unclear, however, what it will be offering its main demographic in twenty years. If it tries giving them what the network airs right now, it's difficult to see that selling as well with future generations. Once the elderly demographic is composed mostly of people who grew up not in idyllic Fifties America but in kinda-shitty Seventies America, a yearning for the Good Ol' Days isn't going to be an easy sell.

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30 Responses to “REPLACEMENT AGE”

  1. OperationEnduringEmployment Says:

    I do not think that the biggest threat to Fox News is the death of old, so-called Conservatives and reactionaries. Fox News will die because cable news will will become less and less lucrative to advertisers as more and more efficient replacements become available every day on the internet. I would not be surprised to learn that Alex Jones has more listeners than all the cable networks combined. Political lines in this country are drawn, not between age groups, or even between regions. The split is between large metropolitan areas, and the suburbs/farmland. Fox News will not survive, but what is called Conservatism will grow stronger…theirs is a victory that will take perhaps a century but they will win. Remember, Progressivism began among Radical religious sects, and splinter groups in both the Democratic and Republican parties in the 1840's. It started in the slums on Bowery in New York City before Fort Sumter, and its final triumph was not achieved until Lyndon Johnson began implementing his "Great Society," in concert with a string of supreme court decisions that did more to advance civil rights and free speech than any other judicial, legislative, or executive action that had been taken in the developed world in the previous 300 years. These things take time…Regan was considered a radical, and now they name airports after him. Something like the tea party would not have been possible twenty years ago. John Roberts, the Mormon Church, etc…, are all smart, discrete, and, above all, patient.

  2. Gordon Guano Says:

    The commercials for the USA network are the same way. Sure, I can see how endless procedural shows like House or NCIS could be the realm of the fuddy-duddy, but some of their original shows seemed kind of hip. I mean, liking Monk or Burn Notice shouldn't mean I'm so feeble I need a bathtub with a door, right?

  3. Major Kong Says:

    Would that be the 1950s when we had a highly unionized workforce, a top marginal tax rate of 91% and a massive government public works program?

  4. Sarah Says:

    It will be fascinating to see if future generations of elderly Americans flock to Fox in a way that they clearly are not doing as younger and middle-aged people.

    I've heard it said that people tend to be liberal when they're young and don't know anything, and then become conservative when they get older, take on ~Responsibility~ and learn the value of ~Hard Work~. It's possible that they're operating on this theory, and it will be interesting to see if it holds true, as current generations whose earliest memories are not only second-wave feminism but the AIDS crisis (mentioned publicly by Reagan FOR THE FIRST TIME in 1987, and recently had illustrated the importance of ongoing education by one Justine Sacco), the Clinton years (8 years of prosperity and relative peace), and 9/11. At any rate, the theory certainly doesn't hold true for me; I was a self-righteous libertarian in my late teens and early 20s, and then during the Bush years I got stuck with a shit job that paid shit for money and had absolutely no protection from abusive higher-ups. A few years of working that and paying my bills with the little money I earned has made me very leftist, and watching Fox News now only makes me want to vomit.

  5. Major Kong Says:

    @Sarah

    I'm 51. I was very right-wing in my 20s and I've been moving left ever since.

  6. Jimcat Says:

    What you say about Fox News and the elderly may be true. But I see a depressing number of posts on Facebook from people in their 40's or younger who at least think the same as angry old white men.

  7. Matt Says:

    Sadly, Fux Nooz isn't just targeted *at* the over-65 crowd, it's explicitly trying to radicalize that crowd. Anecdote in place of data: my parents, both retired, are now die-hard FN junkies. Both of them are Masters-degree holders who spent their entire lives working for state government, but they cheer right along with the Two Minutes Hate about "liberal elites" and "lazy government workers who get paid too much". FFS, they had a "Duck Dynasty"-themed Christmas this year – not because they like hunting (they've never been) or because they like the show – they stated clearly its "because we support what Phil said".

  8. Misterben Says:

    This is a terrific article and a great example of why I read this site every day. Really interesting perspective leading into a great discussion (so far).

    @Sarah: I've heard that, too, and it always makes me laugh. I started out extremely conservative thanks to an upbringing on Catholicism and Polack-anti-communism. All it took to convert me was getting out into the real world and really learning what economic vulnerability meant. If we don't counterbalance the ever-grasping already-rich with government action, we won't end up with a free market; we'll end up in a pure oligarchy.

  9. middle seaman Says:

    As a flaming liberal/lefty close to 70, I get leftier by the day as do many of my friends, my long politically disinterested sister and even some of old flames (from when I was young in my 50s). I never watch Fox, or any news outlet on TV or paper for that matter. (Tweets is all we need!) Why waste my scarce time.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    That "kinda-shitty Seventies America" seems like the 'Halcyon Days of Yore," compared to what's come after the 1980, and "The Reagan Devolution."

    Everything since then has been "The Revenge of the Privileged Class!"

    They've been trying to undo "The New Deal" since it was new, and "The Great Society," since it began to make our society a little better, and more equitable.

    And if the Privileged Class hasn't won yet, it's getting pretty damn close to a total victory.

  11. Assistant Professor Says:

    What Jimcat said. I've seen far too many evangelical protestants in their late thirties and early forties who've nonetheless internalized the notion that American Was a Godly Commonwealth Before it All Went Wrong in The 60s.

  12. GunstarGreen Says:

    Faux Newz may die, but the ideas behind it won't. The trend in their viewership is indicative of a larger trend of society in general: as you move into younger demographics, you find more and more people who have realized that paying what the cable company wants every month for ten thousand channels of shit and two channels of Things You Actually Care To Watch is silly, and so they use more specialized and focused internet platforms. True, the average FN viewer may be 65 or older, but there's no shortage of young(er) twits on Twitchy, or commenters in Beckistan or Brietland.

    The reactionary right is here to stay. Anecdotally, my father typifies the breed: stoned off his ass in the 70s and 80s, spending the 90s and 00s surrounded by the kind of misery and barely-above-subsistence living that deep south politics breeds, and having a son that is a pretty clear example that one can be both Leftist and Way More Successful Than You, he's still rarifying into an All Fox All The Time codger as he approaches his 60s.

  13. Graham Says:

    It skews so old it's off the graph? Wow.

    But hey there's good news – Fox News is changing and has taken up comedy. Megyn Whatserface's recent piece on white Santa was awesome. Man I've seen deadpan comedy and I've seen dry comedy, but this was so deadpan and so dry I failed to detect it as comedy.

    I simply must get up to speed on this New Wave of comedians.

  14. Monty Says:

    Everything about the network is geared toward the Greatest Generation with the underlying premise that America was awesome in the Fifties and our current society has abandoned the values of that era.

    I call bullshit on that – by the time Faux News launched (1996) most of the Greatest Generation were well into their 70s. By now, Korean war vets are 70+ and Vietnam vets are roughly 65…give or take a few years.

    Sure, Fox has been sexing it up for years, while the angry boyz (Hannity and O'Reilly) will be around to fuel the rage for another decade or so.

    It's all about emotional *coughmanipulationcough* appeals. Roger Ailes and/or his retinue of producers understand their audience perfectly.

  15. Aaron Says:

    Well, MTV seems to have done an OK job keeping up with the ever-shifting under-25 demog, and and VH1 is now marketing 90's nostalgia.

    So, it seems likely that they'll hire some Viacom talent and keep marketing to people who yearn for something 50 years ago. In 2050 it'll be people who miss the early 2000s.

  16. Anon Says:

    I was a little surprised to see that FN's demographic is so skewed. I knew it was popular with the older crowd, but… well, there are so many idiots of all ages in the world.

    One of the repulsive/spooky things about Oklahoma is the omnipresence of Fox News. It's really weird- like something out of Orwell. Most public places have a big-screen TV playing Fox News, so you start to feel like you're being bombarded by some deliberate program of wall-to-wall propaganda. I used to like hanging out in cafe's on Saturday mornings to have coffee and a pastry, but the problem is that in Oklahoma I couldn't find a single cafe that didn't have Fox News blaring.

    My Oklahoma landlord's life seemed to consist of 24/7 viewing of Fox News. He wasn't so old- maybe a 35 year old white man. But he had a TV in his office, and EVERY SINGLE TIME I went to talk to him, he was glued to Fox News, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. It's not even like he had it playing in the background- he would be starting straight at the TV and only look away for a moment to take the rent check. It's bizarre to imagine what his life must be like- just a mainline of angry morons quacking on and on and on, straight into his brain, the same old thing over and over.

    Speaking of cultures of hateful idiocy, one of my esteemed colleagues at work is really, REALLY into Voice of the Martyrs.

  17. Assistant Professor Says:

    Anon, Georgia's similar for wall-to-wall Fox…

  18. Alan C Says:

    I think rather than the Greatest Generation I'd say Fox appeals to those (of all ages but mainly old) who are nostalgic for the days when the USA was the White Man's Country. A demographic exemplified by my brother and his wife, who are 63 and have Fox on every time I'm at their house. Hopefully future generations won't give a rat's ass that white people are no longer the clear majority.

    I don't think there's any chance Fox will appeal more to me as I get older (I'm 53 now). On the rare occasions when I turn it on, I physically flinch as I enter the channel on the remote.

  19. Major Kong Says:

    @Anon

    I find that behavior both disturbing and perplexing.

    I'm as liberal as they come but I don't sit around watching MSNBC all day. In fact I very rarely watch it.

  20. eau Says:

    There's a Paul McCauly novel (quiet war, I believe) set in a future in which a global conservative/environmentalist movement has risen in opposition to radical tech, body mods, gm, etc.

    I figure something along these lines will happen, and the kind of bottom feeding scum who work for corporations like fox will just jump in front of whichever parade brings in the angry marks. I mean, we live in a time when economic conservatism has been retrofitted to house radical market theory. Social conservatism has become both anti-social and (sorta) radicalized. All bets as to where the right wing goes next are off at this point.

    People's fears and hatreds may evolve as generations pass, but they'll still fear and hate something. And that's why fox, and it's ilk, will outlive us all.

  21. Anon Says:

    Well said, eau.

  22. jazzbumpa Says:

    people who grew up not in idyllic Fifties America but in kinda-shitty Seventies America, a yearning for the Good Ol' Days isn't going to be an easy sell.

    I distinctly remember sometime ca 1973 [I was in my late 20's at the time] thinking that nobody would ever look back at that and say, "Them was the good old days."

    Around my 20's I also had strong libertarian leanings. It's very attractive to people who consider themselves to be rational thinkers, but don't know jack shit about the real world.

    After I got over that, I was apolitical for a long time. It took the Clinton impeachment to wake me up.

    Now I'm a total progressive.

    BTW, it was Winston Churchill who said, "If you're not liberal when you're young, you don't have a heart, and if you're not conservative when you're old, you don't have a head." It amuses me to have walked that path backwards.

    But Churchill was one rotten motherfucker.

    JzB

  23. Sarah Says:

    My brother-in-law sent me this, and it seems appropriate for this thread. "Offshore drilling is completely sa-afe! You're getting sleepy!"

  24. skwerlhugger Says:

    As long as there are quick oil change chains with blaring TVs, there will be a Fox News. Although I did take someone to a medical office recently and spent a remarkable hour listening to Katie Couric tell me how HPV vaccines were dangerous.

  25. Burning River Says:

    @ Major Kong

    I'm hastily closing on 35, and marching to the same drummer.

  26. Andrew Says:

    I was raised in the 80s by Reagan disciples. Saw the light in college. Even my father has seen the light. He's still conservative but loathes Fox at least.

  27. Andrew Says:

    The 50s weren't all that idyllic. Especially if you were a woman or minority or poor

  28. John Doheny Says:

    "What is Fox going to do when its elderly viewers don't remember the Fifties? Or weren't alive yet? Or think fondly of American culture in the Sixties of their childhood? Or spent their college years in the Seventies higher than kites? "

    Yes indeedy, I remember when I first heard this "once all the old squares die off, everything will be cool" meme. It was about 1967. The liberal punditocracy was trumpetting a "permanent liberal consensus" in America since the Johnson administration.

    If you haven't read it already, I recommend Rick Perlstein's "Nixonland' for an excellent overview of "the paranoid style" in American politics. Fox-duddies are not some 21st century creation; they've always been with us, from the beginning of the republic.

    "Or spent their college years in the Seventies higher than kites? ""

    You mean like George W. Bush? Most boomers weren't at Woodstock, you know. Most of us were with W. The hippie-freak cohort (full disclosure, I was one of them) was a reletively small demographic that got a LOT of media attention.

    "Once the elderly demographic is composed mostly of people who grew up not in idyllic Fifties America but in kinda-shitty Seventies America,"

    For the average educated white square, these were both FABULOUS decades. Sure, the seventies had oil embargoes and gas lines, but it also had plentifull jobs (by todays standards) and a low cost of living (again, compared to today) In 1971 out on the west coast, I lived in a three bedroom house with a bunch of other hippies. The whole house cost $150. Seriously. Two years later I was renting a studio apartment in Seattle on Capitol hill for 60 bucks a month. In 1979, I passed on a NYC apartment in the lower east side renting for $200 a month, because it was TOO EXPENSIVE. We wound up in a two-bedroom in Brooklyn Heights, for $250 a month.

    THAT is what the Fox-duddies of my cohort will remember about the 70s, just as the current over-65s view a 50s that never were through rose colored glasses. None of these people dwell on the cold war paranoia and polio epidemics that were also a part of that decade. They just remember it was a time when white people were the gnat's nutz, and women and coloreds knew their place.

  29. Mo Says:

    Yep, it's indeed scary, Anon. Now that we're starting to get a focus on our brains' cognitive shortcomings and the way neural nets and neurotransmitters function, it's hard not to see Fox as a very successful addictive drug.

    A lot of us really aren't all that smart. But we all think we are. So having something that daily validates one's ignorance, bigotry, and prejudices – "You're actually smart! You have common sense! Screw those smartypantses who make you feel inferior!"- is even better than shooting up.

    And don't get me started on smug Wall Street ganstas.

    Too damn bad if the rest of society has to pay for your habit and suffer its consequences.

  30. NickT Says:

    My bet is that Fox News will survive as long as the culture of White Male Victimhood and Electoral Apartheid has enough power/numbers to have significant success obstructing the emerging minority majority. That, I estimate, will be roughly another 30 years, largely because of America's dysfunctional institutions and the way white men have entrenched themselves in them.

    That said, they are losing and will continue to lose some key battles. 20 years ago, gay marriage seemed like someone's idea of what the 23rd century might bring. Now, it's clear that marriage equality is the near future throughout the US. Similarly, imperfect though the ACA is, it has set us on the path to a more radical and lasting change for the better.

    The big question is how long it will take the left to stop squabbling and organize effectively and consistently at the local level, rather than relying on the Party of Senile White Rage to helpfully screw up.