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radarscreen: Retirement Living

While some channels are looking to lower the median age of their viewing audience, Retirement Living is one of the rare channels that targets an audience over 50-years-old. According to Elliot Jacobson, VP of programming for the cablecaster, it's a lucrative and relatively untapped market.
March 1, 2009

While some channels are looking to lower the median age of their viewing audience, Retirement Living is one of the rare channels that targets an audience over 50-years-old. According to Elliot Jacobson, VP of programming for the cablecaster, it’s a lucrative and relatively untapped market.

There are 95 million people over 50 living in the United States, and they’re watching more television than any other group by a growing margin, says Jacobson. Their median net worth is twice that of the national average, which makes this a desirable target. ‘It’s a very affluent demo with a lot of time on its hands,’ says Jacobson. ‘Advertisers haven’t necessarily come to them yet, but we’re seeing that shift and the boomers are obviously forcing that.’

Jacobson says that for the most part the channel is currently looking for character-driven docusoaps focused on anything from ‘dealing with your in-laws’ to ‘downsizing.’ The channel is also looking for travel shows. ‘They have to be uniquely for [this audience], but that doesn’t mean ‘geriatric,” says Jacobson.

What doesn’t work for Retirement Living is competition-style reality shows and anything that is overly negative. They’re also not looking for scripted programming right now, which is good news for factual producers.

Jacobson’s main advice to producers is to understand Retirement Living’s audience before coming in with a pitch. ‘I would say that about 70% of the pitches I get are fairly condescending to this demographic,’ he explains. ‘I see clichés such as, ‘We’ll do a reality show in an old folks home.’ I would put aside your clichés about this demo and if you’re going to pitch to us, understand who they are.’ And here’s some more insider information: number your pages and put your phone number on every page of your submission if you want to impress Jacobson. It’s a pet peeve of his.

This year, one focus for Retirement Living is to build themed programming blocks during the day such as ‘Healthy Living’ and ‘What’s Next.’ The What’s Next block is an aspiration segment of programming focusing on subjects such as personal finance, downsizing and empty nesting. The other goal is to establish a stronger primetime schedule.

Jacobson says he’s ready to invest in programming through both acquisitions, which they will be investing heavily in over 2009 and part of 2010, and original programs. ‘We’re looking for unique concepts and we have money to spend,’ says Jacobson. ‘I’m ready to greenlight shows as soon as ones come along that work for us.’

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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