Women turning off TV networks' morning shows

February 19, 2007|By Matea Gold | Matea Gold,Los Angeles Times

When her children were young, Jenny Lauck flipped on Today or Good Morning America as she brewed her morning coffee and tended her babies.

But several years ago, the 34-year-old mother of three stopped watching the morning shows. After getting TiVo, she had no patience to sit through multiple commercial breaks during a live newscast. On top of that, the segments seemed frivolous.

"Watching morning television for me is the equivalent of reading People magazine in the dentist's office," said Lauck, who writes for Web sites from her home in Santa Rosa, Calif. "It seems like a lot of fluff. I feel like I can get information faster and cleaner on the Internet."

Lauck is not alone in souring on network morning news programs. In particular, this season has seen a significant erosion of the shows' demographic sweet spot: 25- to 54-year-old women.

Almost 450,000 of these women - coveted by advertisers because of their household purchasing power - have turned off the three broadcast morning programs this season, a decline of 10 percent compared with the same time last year, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. Male viewers the same age also fell by 9 percent, but they make up a smaller portion of the audience.

It's difficult to trace the exact cause of the drop. It comes after two popular morning hosts, Katie Couric and Charles Gibson, left their shows to be evening news anchors. At the same time, the popularity of online news sites and the frantic press of daily life appear to have led many women to forgo morning TV. Women are also turning increasingly to "mommy blogs," which now number 6,400, according to the blog search engine Technorati, to swap tales about modern motherhood.

"The very issues that typically get covered on the morning shows are very robust and alive in the blogosphere," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer for Nielsen BuzzMetrics, which tracks blog trends.

News executives are calling the dip a short-term fluctuation.

"We are certainly aware of it, but not making a lot if it just yet," said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC's Today.

If the dwindling female viewership continues, it may have implications not only for morning programs but news divisions as a whole, which rely on profitable shows to finance news-gathering operations.

"Seventy percent of our revenue comes from women 25 to 54," said Steve Friedman, vice president of morning broadcasts for CBS News.

Until recently, morning programs seemed immune to the ratings declines the evening newscasts were experiencing. But in the past two seasons, the combined viewership of Today, ABC's Good Morning America and CBS' The Early Show leveled off. Viewership has shrunk by 4 percent this season - a slight drop, but one that suggests the morning programs are vulnerable.

"There was a perception that early morning was bulletproof," said Bill McOwen, director of national broadcast for the media agency MPG. "Now it's starting to suffer from what its colleagues in the broadcast realm have dealt with for years: that other options exist."

It's a fact familiar to evening newscasts, which have watched their audiences deflate in the past few decades. That pattern continues this season: The number of women watching the three nightly network broadcasts has dropped by 510,000, while male viewers have declined by 334,000.

Even Couric's arrival at CBS did not substantially boost female viewership. While CBS Evening News has drawn about 29,000 more 25- to 54-year-old women this season, an increase of 2 percent, the size of the total female audience hasn't changed.

Couric's rivals still beat her among women ages 25 to 54, even though they have both lost viewers this season. NBC anchor Brian Williams is down 15.5 percent in that demographic, while ABC's Charles Gibson, who attracts the most women in that age group, has shed 7 percent.

Television news veterans chalk up the waning female viewership to many factors, including the growing migration of women to online news sites and disheartening reports about the Iraq war.

"My gut instinct is it may have something to do with Iraq," said Judy Woodruff, a former CNN anchor and NBC correspondent who now serves as senior correspondent for The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer on PBS.

"The news is so negative and so depressing day after day that it may well be that everybody - and especially women, who may be able to identify with the mothers and sisters and daughters - it may be that they're reacting in this way. The news is not happy."

Matea Gold writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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