AARP is launching foray into TV aimed at seniors

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By Tanika White | Sun reporter
March 7, 2008

Beginning Monday, seniors can turn on their television sets and find AARP TV – programming aimed specifically at the 50 and older crowd.

The newly formed AARP TV has joined forces with the Columbia-based senior’s network, Retirement Living TV, to bring what it calls “smart programming to a grown up audience.”

New shows include My Generation, a lifestyles magazine, and Inside E Street, a public affairs program with a format somewhere between Meet The Press and Nightline.

Preview of AARP TV, set to air on Retirement Living TV Video
The launch of the two weekly shows, announced yesterday, marks the first time that AARP – the nation’s largest membership organization for people over the age of 50 – has created its own original television programming.

The cable-satellite TV programming represents the latest expansion by AARP, which once was primarily an advocacy group but now operates everything from magazines to Medicare prescription plans. And it also reflects a growing focus of media on older Americans.

“The media industry is just now getting wise to what has really been an overlooked market, and that is senior citizens,” said Jeffrey M. McCall, professor of communications at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. “There’s a realization now in the media industry – and we’re seeing this a lot in television – that seniors watch a lot of TV. They have a lot of opportunity to watch TV, and their needs have not been met.”

Though hardly monolithic, many seniors generally don’t get much enjoyment out of today’s primetime lineups of reality shows and sitcoms, McCall said.

“And senior citizens are a lot less likely to tolerate a lot of programming with a lot of violence and/or sex,” he said. “There’s also a lot of evidence to show that seniors watch a lot of cable news channels.”

Until Retirement Living TV launched in September 2006, seniors had no central place to go to find the kinds of shows that interested them, said Brad Knight, president of Retirement Living TV, a subsidiary of the Erickson Retirement Communities in Catonsville.

Instead, he said, many seniors flipped back and forth between nostalgia channels such as TV Land or Turner Classic Movies, family-friendly programming, such as the Hallmark Channel, and newscasts such as Fox News.

With 23 different series on the air, Retirement Living TV offers the over-55 crowd one-stop viewing, Knight said.

Shows on Retirement Living run the gamut, from a two-hour noontime program called Daily Cafe, featuring legendary 91-year-old journalist Walter Cronkite, to The Florence Henderson Show (an inside look at past and present Hollywood) to Another Chance for Romance (a dating show for seniors and baby boomers).

The network currently is airing a multipart series, Healthcare ’08: Search for Solutions, which it produced in partnership with Johns Hopkins. It will launch this month a lifestyle makeover show What’s Next?

Such shows indicate that “the face of television is changing to meet the needs of aging baby boomers,” said developmental psychologist George H. Schofield, author of After 50 It’s Up to Us.

“Not only are there more options in senior-focused programming, but advertisers are changing the ways they reach senior consumers,” said Schofield, 63. “More and more after-50 adults that appear in commercials and shows are being portrayed as active, social, contributing members to society.”

At one time, consumers who aged out of the coveted 25-to-54 demographic were considered irrelevant by advertisers, experts said.

“There’s a large number of this audience that have a fair amount of discretionary income,” said Kevin Donnellan, executive vice president and chief communications officer for AARP. “Advertisers are finally waking up to that and recognizing that the 50-plus population is a viable market.”

Seniors buy most of the major appliances and luxury cars in this country; they make up most of the luxury travel segment, Knight said.

Advertisers with Retirement Living TV include pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, financial organizations such as Prudential Financial, and health care and insurance firms, such as New York Life and United Healthcare. The car rental firm Avis and dating service also have signed up to advertise on the network.

Programming on Retirement Living TV – including AARP TV’s two new shows – is designed to attract baby boomers and older Americans who want to be “included, not isolated,” Knight said.

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Retirement Living TV can be seen in 29 million homes nationwide. Locally, find the network on Comcast CN8 and DirecTV, Channel 223

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