A woman’s world

Women make up the lion's share of viewers when it comes to some factual entertainment, yet many content suppliers never get beyond a surface understanding of the demo. As important as it is to know what they watch, it's also critical to understand why they're watching, and what they're thinking when they do
April 1, 2007

The blatant stereotypes may have stopped years ago, but there are still some pigeonholes 51% of the world’s population find themselves crawling out of when it comes to media consumption. That’s especially true in regards to non-fiction programming.

Some generalizations still apply. As the industry has suspected for a while, self-development lifestyle programming is tops for females, whether it be personal transformation television, or a do-it-yourself home improvement series. Marti Barletta, founder of the Illinois-based TrendSight Group and author of Marketing to Women and PrimeTime Women, says females are, by nature, more interested in self-development than males. And the proof is in the purse: she says almost all self-help books are sold to ladies.

Joanna Webb, VP of programming at the W Network, agrees that transformation-themed programming is a big trend for the lifestyle genre. A makeover show, however, needs to pay off with more than a prettier contestant or fancier-looking house. Women want to see how these more superficial things help a person build confidence and overcome personal demons via the transformation. And doing this means a production needs to offer more than studio-based talking heads. Both Webb and Brigitte McCray, SVP of programming at Oxygen Network, say the way to grab their audience emotionally is by telling stories with humor and huge characters.

Women think differently

It’s all about how women absorb information. Barletta says men are generally interested in talking about ‘things and theorems,’ whereas women aren’t interested in the abstract, but would rather know how things apply to people’s lives.

This may explain why Oxygen employs protagonists that are not only big names, but are also at the center of a series that documents their major life changes. While The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency may illustrate the strange world of the fashion industry, the story is centered more on the supermodel’s first-ever attempt to open and run her own successful business. The ‘launching a new career’ theme also plays into Tori & Dean: Inn Love, about the former 90210 star’s attempt to open a bed and breakfast. ‘What works for us is bigger than life, but reliable, real people,’ says McCray.

Webb says one of her golden rules for appealing to women is, obviously, have an engaging host and expert, but to also ensure the series offers opportunities for women to delve deeper into the topics discussed in the episode online. ‘Every pitch now needs to think about how the series will move into the new media environment,’ says Webb.

Offering the option to get more information is key. Barletta says women typically want to get the most of whatever is presented to them, and this can be best illustrated in the difference between how men and women shop. In most shopping categories, men figure out what they want to buy and then find and buy it, but a woman’s process is different. Women don’t make up their minds upfront because there’s a research procedure, where they expect to learn something along the way that will guide the decision-making process. Women will walk into a store with an idea, but be open to suggestions. ‘There is a stereotype that women are fickle, and for the most part it’s true, because they change their minds during the shopping process, but to them it’s a more effective and comprehensive method,’ says Barletta.

Ironically, Webb says shopping is a topic that’s picking up steam in the lifestyle genre for women. For seven years, W has broadcast The Shopping Bags, which features two hosts who test out a number of products in each episode. She says one of the reasons for the show’s success is the online product reviews. ‘When women go to the Internet, it’s task oriented. New media is offering women more opportunities to go deeper online.’

By nature, females are keen researchers who use all of the resources available to get an answer. If there’s a topic or item mentioned in a program, they will generally want to go explore the extras online. Webb points to her channel’s The Smart Woman Survival Guide, a hybrid comedy/lifestyle program, as an example. It’s a scripted fiction show, peppered with real experts, that grew from the network’s research on how women use new media. The producers presented the series with a full multi-platform component that included a series website that offers an extra expert interview.

Don’t skimp on the tech

Women already have a very comfortable relationship with technology that is different than their male counterparts. McCray contends the stereotypes that women aren’t interested in new technology is bunk, and says her core audience of 30-something gals are only a half-step behind the early adopting males. In a recent Oxygen study, more women said they wanted a flat-screen tv over a big diamond ring. ‘The primary reason why women aren’t early adopters is because the beta versions of new technology tend to make life more complicated,’ says Barletta. Women will wait until the bugs are fixed so they can use the devices to make their lives easier.

Ellen Neuborne, editor of EPM Communication’s Marketing To Women, says females in all age demos are using technology to help their lives. Young women are communicating and building their social lives through new media, and mothers are getting information to help the family and keep track of their busy lives. Neuborne and Barletta believe women over 50 are most often stereotyped as technophobes. But Barletta says women in this age group go into a learning mode because they’re free from family pressures. These women now have the time to pursue the passion they might have deferred for their family. ‘For a while, people thought youth was where it’s at, but what used to be the youth market is now older, and what was once ignored is now being recognized – the Diane Keaton age group,’ says Neuborne.

Time is tight, so be useful

Kevin Burke, founder of mom-expert group Lucid Marketing says, despite the help new technologies offer, mothers feel pulled in many directions and they’re experiencing stress. He says 70% of mothers surveyed say they feel like they’re multitasking, and over 80% of moms say there isn’t enough time in the day to get things done. That it could explain why women are tuning to lifestyle programming for guidance.

Although it’s common knowledge that women are pulled in many directions, from work to family to personal development, Barletta says it’s not because they have no choice. Rather, it’s a preferred approach to life. ‘Speaking in general terms, men prefer, and are better at, being focused on one thing at a time while women prefer being, for lack of a better word, multi-minded,’ she says.

W Network takes on the task with its non-fiction shows and schedules, so if a viewer needs to run and put clothes in the dryer, she’ll come back to a program still knowing what’s going on. ‘We build our shows knowing women are multitasking, so we might build a strong audio component because you may not be looking at the television all the time,’ Webb says.

This is especially true for the early evening slots. Mark Leslie, head of research at W Network, analyzed what women want from television over the course of a day for the broadcaster’s The Her Report. Before 10 a.m., 55% of women want to know what’s going on in the world, and 23% keep the TV on to keep them company while they multitask. For 45% of respondents, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. the television acts as a companion as they continue their daily routine. Between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., news and information return as important for 43%, but now other reasons start to appear, such as relaxing with the programming (for 26%), followed by something to watch with other adults in the family (31%). Primetime is all about kicking off the high heels. Relaxing (46%), pure indulgence (34%) and to watch with other adults (31%) are the most important reasons women want TV at this later hour.

The one point all programmers make is that the golden rules for appealing to women can be applied to genres outside lifestyle programming. As long as entertainment fits with a woman’s life, such as offering guidance, giving her a much-needed laugh, or providing aspirational characters (especially for the ‘reality fashionista’ – a term used in-house to describe Oxygen’s demo), they’ll tune in. Even while multitasking.

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