Programming rich

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous offered a peek into the lavish world of the über-wealthy, and while the upper class might be fixtures on tv, less is known about what's playing on their tv.
March 1, 2008

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous offered a peek into the lavish world of the über-wealthy, and while the upper class might be fixtures on TV, less is known about what’s playing on their TV.

While they may spend less of their time in front of a TV set, the viewing choices made by this wealthy demo tend to be more specific than those of general audiences. ‘The higher-income households just don’t watch as much television,’ says New York-based Mediacom’s managing partner Marc Wallen. ‘They’re into sports, news, financial programming or golf. That’s just a natural draw based on the type of programming that’s on the network.’

If one wanted a voyeuristic peek into the viewing habits of the wealthy, Mediacom can provide it. According to that service, the networks most watched by households with an income of us100k and above are, in order: CNBC, NFL Network, ESPN, Golf Channel, ESPN 2, Bravo, BBC America and Discovery. (The data was compiled from the Viewers per Viewing Household for adults aged 18 and up.) Pay-services HBO and Showtime also popped up in the affluent list. Wallen theorizes these networks rated because viewers must have the funds to pay extra for them. He also attributes the quality of the programming to attracting an upscale audience.

What is it about these channels that attract the wealthy? Is it the subject matter, or the broadcasters working to lure them in with targeted programming? ‘Regarding BBC America and Bravo,’ says Wallen, ‘I think they cater to more upscale audiences by the nature of their programming, more intentionally than others. The high-end fashion shows and some of the international product that airs would tend to appeal to a more upscale audience.’

Knowing more about this niche’s viewing habits and interests helps to understand what subjectmatter they are likely to watch. Generally speaking, they are working baby boomers with household incomes surpassing six figures, and they make up 19% of the us population. These earners tend to be employed in white collar jobs (such as physicians, CEOs, lawyers, physicists and nuclear engineers), and have professional or doctoral degrees, as the top 25 professions for income do. They’re married, and 42% of households enjoy double incomes, with an average income of $88,500 for men and $48,500 for women. They are Asian-American, representing 27.5% of HH incomes exceeding 100k, and White, with 18.3%. They travel, play tennis and golf, and enjoy classical music and wine. They own hybrids and Bang & Olufsen home theater and audio units. For the older viewers in the household demo, aged 45 to 64, newspapers are favored over newer media, but when computers are in use, it’s for email, weather, news, travel and financial purposes. These interests are parlayed into the programming they enjoy. For example, businessmen and women who spend their income on playing top-notch golf courses and have the best equipment translate their expensive hobby into their programming. The Golf Channel, number four on Mediacom’s list, is usually number one with the affluent 25-to-54 demographic in other surveys, says the Golf Channel’s VP of programming Keith Allo.

The Golf Channel has a distinctively wealthy and passionate audience. Its core audience is professional males in their 40s, though women have also increasingly come to the channel over the last few years. Golf, in comparison to other television sports, has the highest participatory factor – audiences watch a tournament or an instructional golf program and can head out that night to emulate a PGA golfer or practice his tips. Allo believes it’s the nature of the sport that attracts an upscale clientele. ‘It’s a sport that lends itself very well to the business community. The sport itself has a built-in ability to work for a business setting.’

Despite all this affluent tune-in, Allo doesn’t think the Golf Channel caters solely to the rich. Although the channel is aware that the 100k demo is watching, it doesn’t necessarily create programs that speak only to the affluent. Instead, the focus stays on the subject of golf and the rest takes care of itself, says Allo.

Regardless of whether they are targeted or not, affluent viewers are perceived to be a higher-quality audience when it comes to some advertisers. ‘If you’re Mercedes, you look at this more carefully,’ notes Wallen. ‘If you’re P&G or a packaged food company, it doesn’t matter as much. Everyone buys toothpaste no matter what the household is.’

Allo agrees. ‘A lot of advertisers, especially automotive and financial, get on major networks and put out a message knowing that maybe 80% to 90% will be wasted because 80% to 90% of that broad audience may not be interested. But there is enough of an audience out there that it makes sense to [advertise anyway]; whereas we are much more of a laser-shot. They know when they advertise with the Golf Channel that they’re hitting the demo they want to hit. There’s very little waste of their message.’

Whether this rich demo is looking for golf tips or financial advice, this different breed of audience has advertisers and broadcasters more than willing to fill their needs.

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