What's cable going to do about broadcast's aging audience?

There are some interesting takeaways for cable from a recent report that says the broadcast TV audience is aging at twice the rate of the general population and that the median age for network viewers is now 51, an age that has never been seen as an especially attractive demographic.

As retransmission battles heat up over how much a broadcast network is worth to a cable operator--and how much that operator should pay the broadcaster for the right to carry that network--there is some question of the value of the audience attached those networks attract.

The second point is that the younger audience, once considered advertising's Holy Grail, is skewing off to alternative means of getting entertainment. It doesn't mean that they aren't watching broadcast TV--it means that they're not using traditional methods to do so. Again, for cable, this presents a dilemma and an opportunity, and, with TV Everywhere, an increasing wireless presence and more content on the Internet, the opportunity seems to overwhelm the dilemma.

The third portion of the equation for cable is that broadcasters, rather than flailing against the current, are starting to embrace their older audience and developing programming that will keep them glued to the broadcast networks, providing a mass of viewers of questionable value.

Steve Sternberg, who gathered and presented the viewing data for Baseline, didn't necessarily agree with this strategy. "The networks need to start thinking about how they can get a little younger," he said. "The only way they can do that is through programming."

Not necessarily, answered Alan Wurtzel, research chief at NBC, which, if all goes according to plan, will be acquired by Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) sometime later this year or early next. Speaking to Forbes.com, Wurtzel pointed out the obvious: Older Americans "are the people who have the money."

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