The Genealogy World Without “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Who Do You Think You Are?

With yesterday’s announcement from NBC that it decided not to renew the US version of Who Do You Think You Are? for the 2013 season, I’ve been pondering what the absence of WDYTYA will mean for the genealogy industry as well as for me professionally and personally.

My pondering really didn’t start just yesterday . . . I actually had a gut feeling several weeks ago that NBC wouldn’t pick up the WDYTYA series for another go-around. Basically it came down to ratings and if you look at some of the numbers this season, you realize one thing: the 18 to 49 year old demographic, which advertisers somehow have deemed the “key” demographic, just wasn’t engaging with the show.

WDYTYA Ratings Slide

Season 3 of Who Do You Think You Are? expanded to 12 episodes featuring celebrities like Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Rashida Jones and this week, Paula Deen. Purely looking at the numbers, one realizes that Season 3 saw the first dip under the 1.0 rating for the 18-49 demographic (as low as .8) and under 5 million viewers (with the Edie Falco episode at 4.64 million).

One observation: NBC didn’t seem to do as much promotion of WDYTYA as in past seasons. Did you notice this or was it just me? Granted I am not a big television watcher and don’t watch NBC very much, but while viewing other shows, I saw almost no promotions of WDYTYA.

Perhaps this was a “sink or swim” test on the part of NBC to see if WDYTYA could hold its own?

The WDYTYA Disconnect

So why the disconnect with the 18-49 year olds? Here’s my take:

  • A lack of celebrities under the age of 40. The key demographic could not identify with many of the featured personalities.
  • Most young people don’t want to do genealogy. Why? Many don’t want to “look to the past” and are focused on the future. This is especially true with young men. For women, it seems that it isn’t until they have their first child that they want to connect with their family history.
  • The CSI aspect was not played up enough. In Season 3, many of the stories seemed to lack the power of previous episodes of WDYTYA. The stories were not as compelling and some celebrities seemed to have similar stories.

The Impact on Ancestry.com

As I write this post, the Ancestry.com stock price (listed as ACOM) is down over 15% this morning. But Ancestry will do fine, believe me. I’m sure they’ve had a contingency plan in place and they’ll find other ways to spend the marketing dollars they poured into promotion of Who Do You Think You Are?

Ancestry will be promoting its new Ancestry DNA product line of tests as a way of attracting new customers as well as keeping its current subscribers engaged in their family history.  In addition, as was mentioned in last week’s presentation at the National Genealogical Society 2012 Conference in Cincinnati, new records sets are coming down the pike. These include German records as well as an agreement with the Italian government to digitize civil records.

Is “50″ the New “Young Genealogist”?

As I approach my Golden Year – the big Five Oh – and I exit that “key” demographic, I’m wondering if the 50 and above demographic which seems to be prevalent in genealogy is a bad thing.  I know, I can feel comfortable with that now that I’m in that club, right?

Well, I think that perhaps you can’t really appreciate your family history fully until you reach a certain age. The 50+ club tends to have more discretionary income to spend on genealogy research, conferences, heritage travel and the like (and contrary to what you may have heard, genealogy is not cheap or free!). We also tend to have more leisure time to devote to our hobby, our passion. And we also somehow want to remember “the good old days” and connect with those memories.

The Future of Genealogy Television and the Genealogy Industry

Looking into my crystal ball:

  • It is possible that the producers of WDYTYA will shop around the show to another network. Don’t look for it on broadcast television – my bet is TLC or The History Channel.
  • Look for more modern approaches to genealogy television shows with the involvement of DNA testing and the presentation of results. As the technology gets better, you’ll see shows where a person (not necessarily a celebrity) is presented with DNA test results filled with surprises as to ethnicity and then the journey begins to find the “why” and piece a puzzle together.
  • The WDYTYA concept will go local. We’ve already seen this with many local news broadcasts including segments on their own version of Who Do You Think You Are? Not only will you continue to see a version of this on local broadcasts, but look for genealogy societies and conferences to pick up on the concept and leverage it to connect with newcomers to family history.
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The genealogy community will survive the loss of WDYTYA, be sure of that. One main reason: over the past few years many of us have embraced social media and technology which will keep the family history industry progressing forward. Many of these modern tools will increase our ability to look backwards and connect with ancestors while at the same time make a connection with our families and other researchers.

© 2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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