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Channeling young retirees
Retirement Living TV is broadcasting shows to appeal to viewers 55 and older, and to advertisers, too.
By Lynn Elber, Associated Press
Published December 18, 2007
LOS ANGELES - In the youth-obsessed world of television, a channel that openly pursues older viewers is showing a fiercely rebellious spirit.
The year-old Retirement Living TV targets viewers 55 and older with original shows about health, finance, politics and entertainment as well as news. Carried during the day by providers including DirecTV and Comcast, it is available in about 29-million homes and online.
A news release from the channel says that among the world's countries, the United States has the third-highest total of people 65 and older (almost 40-million), and that Americans at least 50 years old account for half of the nation's discretionary spending.
"You have a large number of active, healthy people that never existed before," joked Retirement Living executive Charles Hirschhorn. And while advertisers lust after viewers 18 to 49 and networks earn premium revenue for delivering them, boomers are a force to be reckoned with, he said.
"Boomers have always demanded to be marketed for and produced for and be fashion conscious, and that's not going to change," Hirschhorn said. "Madison Avenue can't ignore them. Boomers aren't shy. They're going to force the change."
Sponsors have been receptive, he said - and not just the expected pharmaceutical companies and financial services firms. The automotive industry and other consumer categories are discovering Retirement Living, Hirschhorn said.
"The numbers are hard to ignore. Right now, there are only two significant growing demographics: adults 50-plus and Hispanics. You'd be very shortsighted not to focus on those markets."
Other cable channels and broadcast networks draw older viewers as well, said industry analyst Steve Sternberg, of Magna Global, a company that buys advertising spots.
The average age of the ABC, CBS and NBC combined prime-time audience is estimated at about 50, while many cable channels - including CNN, HGTV and Hallmark - have median ages of 50 or even higher, he said.
But, he added, older viewers represent a "growing niche and there should be room for a channel dedicated to the retirement lifestyle, which is significantly more varied and active then it was 20 or 30 years ago."
The channel is the brainchild of retirement community developer John Erickson.Erickson started the channel because he thought the media were ignoring the issues that people 55 and older were interested in, Hirschhorn said.
Interestingly enough, Retirement Living TV's research shows it attracting viewers younger than 55.
Just as people planned for the three decades or so of their work life that followed school, they're now looking ahead to the "next 30 years" and are shaping these goals and dreams, Hirschhorn said.
An interesting mix
The channel's weekday schedule includes the Washington-based Daily Cafe, a two-hour live program that mixes interviews with newsmakers, news updates from NBC News and segments as varied as any network morning show.
Among the regular contributors are home design maven Christopher Lowell, sex therapist Dr. Ruth, film and culture critic Arch Campbell and columnist Michael Musto of The Village Voice.
The hosts of Daily Cafe are former CNBC and CNN anchor Felicia Taylor and Bobbie Battista, also a CNN alumna. Former NBC newsman John Palmer hosts several shows, including The Informed Citizen, an in-depth political discussion.
Veteran journalists, Hirschhorn said, "share the frustration that many of us do - that TV is designed for younger audiences with a shorter attention span, while (these journalists) are interested in doing programming that can be more thoughtful, dig deeper."
Retirement Living doesn't intend to slight the lighter side. Living Live!, a talk show hosted by Brady Bunch mom Florence Henderson, attends to celebrities; travel segments are included in Daily Cafe, and a series devoted to the topic is being developed.
Hirschhorn acknowledged that retirement is "a double-edged sword" that represents freedom and independence to some but carries uncertainty and worry for others.
"It's something we're aware of. Ultimately, our programming is looking to inspire, engage and involve."