Thursday, August 5, 2004

Young TV viewers watch late at night

By David Bauder
The Associated Press

On many days, 20-year-old New York college student Andrew Myers doesn't bother turning on his TV until 11 at night. He'll catch up on Jon Stewart, David Letterman and maybe a Seinfeld rerun.

Young television viewers haven't disappeared, contrary to the worries of many network executives. Many of them are simply watching TV later.

Savvy cable executives have responded to the increased late-night viewership, and may even have accelerated the trend.

"I don't think it's totally rocket science to note that young people are up late at night," said Kathryn Mitchell, vice president of programming at Comedy Central. "They weren't catered to, and now they are."

Prime time is defined as 8 to 11 p.m. for the broadcast networks. Myers said he reserves that time for schoolwork or going out with friends. If there's a show on then that he wants to see, he'll save it on his digital video recorder.

"The majority of my TV watching is late at night, when I'm done with all of the other stuff that I'm doing," Myers said.

Such cable channels as MTV, Comedy Central, FX, Bravo and VH1 effectively start their prime time at 10. That's when high-profile programs Chappelle's Show, Nip/Tuck, Real World, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Crank Yankers are first shown.

The 10 p.m. hour is popular for cable because there's less broadcast competition. Fox, the WB and UPN - all young-skewing networks - air local news or repeats then. ABC, CBS and NBC tend to show either dramas or newsmagazines, which gives, say, Comedy Central a good counterprogramming opportunity.

Another new development is cable channels rerunning their best shows after midnight.

When its high-profile 10 p.m. to midnight shows, including those featuring Stewart and Colin Quinn, are over each night, Comedy Central immediately reruns the two-hour block. MTV and VH1 do something similar with their lineups.

Comedy Central has more people watching from midnight to 2 a.m. than it does from 6 to 8 p.m., Mitchell said.

"If I'm home at 2 in the morning and I'm flipping through the channels, I'm astounded at the good content you can get," said Brian Graden, top programming executive for MTV and VH1.

Night owl viewership, from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m., increased 35 percent for people aged 18 to 34 between 1999 and 2003, according to Nielsen Media Research.

During the same period, prime-time viewership decreased 3 percent in that age group. It's been more concentrated this year: viewing for young men is down 7 percent since last fall. People in this age group do a little more than one-quarter of their TV-watching during traditional prime time, down 10 percent in four years, Nielsen said.

No one can quite explain the time shift. Betsy Frank, chief researcher for the MTV Networks, suggests there's more video-game playing during the earlier hours. Perhaps there's simply fewer shows on between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. that they want to watch.

Oddly, another network taking advantage of this trend is Nickelodeon, which airs reruns of classic TV shows onNick at Nite between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Its reruns of Charles in Charge fell flat early in the evening. But it draws more than one million viewers, on average, when it airs at 5 a.m., shocking network executives.

The big networks don't ignore young viewers late at night. Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien, Craig Kilborn and Carson Daly all have wee-hour talk shows with youthful audiences. But the cable networks argue those are all the same kind of program and they're providing an alternative.

"If you're my daughter, who's 20, would you rather watch Jay Leno or something that's tailored to your demographic?" said Larry Gerbrandt, television analyst for Kagan World Media.

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