TV wakes up to the power of seniors with raft of new shows

CANNES • They have long been ignored and despised as a "dying demographic" by TV executives in the headlong stampede for younger viewers.

But with millennials spending less time in front of the small screen, compared with their mobile phones and computers, TV is at last waking up to the needs of its vast grey audience.

A whole swathe of new shows at MIP - the world's largest TV market in Cannes, France - either feature or are aimed directly at seniors.

From new dramas like The Viagra Diaries to hit reality shows like Old People's Home For 4 Year Olds, in which small children and retirement home residents are brought together, producers are challenging the taboo that seniors do not make good TV.

The Voice Senior, an old folks' version of the blockbuster singing show, will hit screens across Europe and Asia this year. It follows hot on the heels of the success of an originally Korean talent show Better Late Than Never, which has been sold to 16 countries, and where older hopefuls share the bill with veteran entertainers.

The Dutch producers of The Voice Senior, Talpa, are also launching Around The World With 80-Year-Olds, where eight octogenarians who have never left their homeland jet off together.

Ageing baby boomers are TV's most loyal viewers, watching up to five hours a day, and producers say it is time this relatively rich demographic was taken seriously.

"Why not show older people on screen, too?" said Talpa executive Annelie Noest. "They watch a lot of TV but we never see them."

She said when The Voice Senior was shown in the Netherlands, it attracted a surprisingly high number of younger people.

"You see yourself or your parents in these stories," Ms Noest said.

"Old people on screen, historically, the concept has been a bit tricky, if we are honest," said Mr Harry Gamsu, from Red Arrow International, which is behind Old People's Home For 4-Year-Olds.

"But the success of shows like ours - and it had massive ratings - is changing that, particularly combined with kids, which broadens it out," he added.

Professor Carolyn Yoon, author of The Ageing Consumer, said the trend was "hugely positive", particularly since new research being carried out at the University of Michigan, where she works, shows that exposure to young people can wipe years off older people.

"People generally think of themselves as about 12 years younger than their chronological age. But it turns out that in positive situations with younger people, or just being surrounded by images of young people, can make people feel even younger."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'TV wakes up to the power of seniors with raft of new shows'. Subscribe