Robert Taylor as title character of 'Longmire'
Robert Taylor as title character of ‘Longmire’

Do the TV networks have too little respect for the market power of older Americans? So says Annabelle Gurwitch, writing in the Hollywood Reporter. The A&E Network recently announced the cancellation of its top-rated TV drama series, the crime drama Longmire. Gurwitch attributes the decision to age demographics:

When A&E announced it was canceling its most popular dramaLongmire, the news was confirmation of an antiquated advertising bias against catering to a viewership over 50. The accepted wisdom is that the spending habits of the AARP-eligible are immutable and, anyway, they’ve got one foot in the grave.

A&E disagrees, saying things are a bit more complicated than that, as HR reported in an editor’s note at the end of Gurwitch’s essay:

Asked about Longmire‘s cancellation, an A&E exec tells The Hollywood Reporter: “The issue with Longmire is more about the ownership than the age of the audience. The studio model is broken and networks just aren’t able to monetize series that underperform in the key demos advertisers covet if they don’t own a piece of it.”

A&E seems to be saying that, yes, they did cancel Longmire because the audience is too old, but it’s the production company’s fault for not giving A&E an ownership stake in the show. Translation: they canceled Longmire for the very reasons Gurwitch and the shows legion of fans complained about: the audience was too old to enable A&E to make as much money from it as it makes on its cheaply produced reality programs.

It is true that the ratings for the most recent season of Longmire were lower than those for the previous season, but it was still a well-rated show and A&E’s top-rated drama, as noted above.

A&E’s statement, moreover, fails to address an important point Gurwitch makes and which had occurred to me as well: as the average age of the nation’s population increases due to the aging of the huge Baby Boom generation, it stands to reason that the proportion of consumer spending by older Americans should increase, purely because of the much greater number of them:

You have to wonder when will we put this creaky canard out of its misery because it’s not your father’s 50 anymore. Every second and a half another American turns 50, which means that in a very short time, we will be the largest demographic in the country — and with our longer life spans, we’re not going anywhere. It also just so happens that 50-plus-ers account for of 75 percent of the disposable income in America.

Gurwitch makes the additional claim that today’s older Americans are more inclined toward consumer spending than previous generations were, and she provide copious examples of her own rather frightening spending habits. She concludes that advertisers and TV networks should see older Americans such as herself as a potential goldmine instead of a dead zone:

So, advertisers, please don’t write us off. Even though I keep seeing those “prepare for a longer retirement commercials,” I’m not! I’m spending and I’d like to have something other than teenage vampire love stories to watch while I’m paying my credit card bills.

A&E’s action raised much ire not just because Longmire has a passionate fan base but also because it has become common knowledge that TV providers chase the 25-47 demographic and other similarly young age groupings. Gurwitch’s claim that today’s generation of older Americans is eager to spend if only TV networks would show more advertisements for products that appeal to them in TV shows that older people want to watch is a provocative and plausible hypothesis.

It seems implausible that not one of the many highly competitive TV providers seeking an edge over the competition has seen fit to investigate the matter and uncover this untapped treasure trove of potential big spenders, but it is by no means impossible. If the TV providers and advertisers really have not looked into this possibility, they owe it to their stockholders to do so immediately. Oh, and yes, stock ownership is skewed toward older demographics as well.