The Anachronistic Thinking of the ‘Key Demo’

Britt Baker from All Elite Wrestling’s Wednesday night show, Dynamite.

Going back to what people call the Mad Men days after the AMC television show that took place in the 1960s, the so-called “key demo” for TV executives, advertisers and showrunners has been the 18-34 male demographic. If you have those people watching, that’s going to make all three of those groups happy because it theoretically means your show is hot and thus, making more money.

So, for nearly 60 years, it’s been thought that the 18-34 male demographic has an outsized influence on purchasing decision; ergo, let’s appeal to them. (In some articles, I’ve seen the age bracket extend to the age of 49, but regardless.)

But how is that not an anachronistic way of thinking?

For starters, especially compared to the 1960s, women of all ages have more influence on purchasing decisions than they used to have.

Secondly, age is also a lot different than it was in the 1960s. That is, someone older than 34 (or even 49) is … not that old in our 2021 eyes compared to our 1960 eyes.

As this NPR article points out, it also seems anachronistic to think of those watching television by age or gender rather than values and passions, especially given how much data is available out there compared to the 1960s.

There’s pros and cons to all of this and far be it for me to pretend I’m an advertising expert, but the reason I bring all of this up is I’m perturbed by the continued reliance by so-called wrestling journalists and wrestling fans on the important of the “key demo” when comparing television ratings.

So, if you’re not familiar, the two biggest professional wrestling promotions in North America (and one extends to the world) are WWE and All Elite Wrestling. WWE is broadcast on the USA Network and AEW is broadcast on TNT. WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw, is broadcast on Mondays. AEW’s flagship show, Dynamite, is broadcast on Wednesdays.

That alone shows that any comparison between the two is kinda silly because it’s not apples-to-apples given they are broadcast on different days and for example, Raw is going up against the National Football League’s ratings juggernaut of Monday Night Football, which just returned this past week.

But secondly, fans of AEW continue to hold up this point that Dynamite is beating Raw, and has for the last two weeks, in the “key demo” of 18-34 or 18-49.

From the Wrestling Observer, the so-called top journalism outfit in the wrestling industry:

“In the 18-49 demo, Dynamite topped the cable TV charts with a 0.44 rating, down 29.4 percent from last week. After virtually tying WWE Raw last week with the same rating but a slightly higher number of viewers, Dynamite beat Raw for the second straight week in 18-49. Monday’s Raw, which went against the season premiere of Monday Night Football, drew a 0.43 rating in the demo.”

Given these days with the Nielson ratings controversies and how different TV viewing is, a tenth of a rating difference is rather amusing, too, but that’s beside the point.

Why is that demographic considered to so important? I do believe they are designating that 18-49 as males only, but let’s stipulate that it’s all people ages 18-49, that still seems like a backward way of thinking about advertising.

Meanwhile, WWE’s female viewership has been nearly catching up to being equal with the male viewership over the last half decade, with the advent of women finally getting their due in the ring. Also according to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, WWE’s audience is about 55 to 62 percent male while AEW’s is 70 percent.

So, the framing from types like Bryan Alvarez, also of the Wrestling Observer tends to be this:

Why isn’t the framing instead: Raw tops Dynamite again among female viewers for the 102nd week in a row?

(AEW Dynamite has been around since October 2019, so that’s roughly 102 weeks of ratings comparisons.)

I freely admit that I’m biased toward WWE, even though I do like AEW, but as I said, I get perturbed by this singular, anachronistic point-of-view on the “key demo,” particularly when it negates the importance of female viewership — which WWE has made great strides to increasing over the past half decade.

And I take the point that TV executives, advertisers and showrunners are still guided by this old way of thinking, so that’s why people, like Meltzer and Alvarez, continue to point it out and hold it up as a victory for Dynamite.

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