Retirement Living TV airs shows to “inspire, engage” the 55-plus crowd



By Lynn Elber

LOS ANGELES – In the youth-obsessed world of television, a channel that openly pursues older viewers is showing the kind of fiercely rebellious spirit that even a teenager would have to admire.

The maverick, year-old channel bears a name that embraces its mission: Retirement Living TV. It targets viewers 55 and up with original shows about health, finance, politics and entertainment as well as news.

Carried during the day by providers including DirecTV and Comcast, Retirement Living is available in 29 million homes and online. A “fact book” distributed by the channel points out that among the world’s countries, the U.S. has the third-highest total number of people over 65 (almost 40 million), and that 50-plus Americans account for half of the nation’s discretionary spending.

“You have a large number of active, healthy people that never existed before,” said channel executive Charles Hirschhorn. And while advertisers lust after viewers 18 to 49 and networks earn a premium for delivering them, baby 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. Madison Avenue can’t ignore them,” Hirschhorn said. “Boomers aren’t shy. They’re going to force the change.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Sponsors have been receptive, he said – and not just the expected pharmaceutical makers 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 ad-buying firm Magna Global. The average age of ABC, CBS and NBC combined prime-time audience is 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, whose foundation also helped create the University of Maryland’s Erickson School of Aging Studies. (While Erickson’s company does advertise on the channel, Hirschhorn says there are no infomercials for it embedded in the programming.)

Erickson started the service because he felt the media was ignoring the issues the 55-plus audience was interested in, Hirschhorn said. (Interestingly enough, Retirement Living TV’s research shows it skewing slightly to the younger end of its target, and attracts viewers under 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 their second-act goals and dreams, Hirschhorn said.

The weekday schedule includes the Washington-based “Daily Cafe,” a two-hour live program that mixes interviews with Beltway 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. Battista’s hiring was announced last week.

Former NBC newsman John Palmer hosts several shows including “The Informed Citizen,” an in-depth political discussion. Another former network anchor, this one from CBS, may also become part of Retirement Living: Walter Cronkite is in negotiations with the channel, Hirschhorn said.

Veteran journalists “share the frustration that many of us do, that TV is designed for younger audiences with a shorter attention span, while they’re interested in doing programming that can be more thoughtful, dig deeper,” Hirschhorn said.

Retirement Living doesn’t intend to slight the lighter side of life. “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,” he said.