By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director
The Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2013 paints a mixed picture of increasing revenues but declining viewership in 2012 for local TV news. The reasons for the loss of eyeballs are varied but the preferences of changing demographics, combined with an increasingly fractured media universe, are among the reasons.
That said, local TV remains at the top of the list for news with nearly half of Americans saying they watch regularly. But to no one’s surprise, that preference level is smallest for younger adults (18-29) at only 28 percent and highest for those 65 and older at 63 percent. While some newscasts in the early-morning time periods (and there are more and more of them) gained viewers, the traditional 5-7 am audience shrank by 5 percent.
The increase in ad revenues was due, in no small part, to the huge influx of political dollars in 2012. But as GMs and NDs are painfully aware, the great majority of that money was concentrated in a relatively few, hotly contested states.
So where are the opportunities in 2013 and beyond? Increasingly, they’re in the successful integration of traditional TV news with a more robust presence through the station’s website, in its social media and on mobile. The study shows that more stations have ramped up their digital news offerings, even though digital dollars continue to be only a fraction of a station’s income. The spread of newspaper paywalls has also helped boost digital audiences for some stations in a few markets.
Especially for younger news consumers, mobile is increasingly becoming the medium of choice. Smartphones and tablets not only are important stand-alone devices, but are also driving more traffic to the web, especially outside of working hours. Former RTDNA board member and the senior director of local digital operations for E.W. Scripps, Chip Mahaney, says, “It used to be mobile was a small fraction (of our digital audience). In some cases, mobile has overtaken web."
The lesson here to remember is simple and was expressed in the Pew study by Scott Blumenthal, executive vice president for Lin Media. “We are not a TV station anymore as much as a provider of news on multiple platforms.”
A bright spot for TV news operations in 2012 was in their staffing levels. Our RTDNA/Hofstra University annual survey showed more than 36 percent of stations planned to do more hiring in 2012. Bob Papper, who conducts the research for us, says he would be very surprised to see that trend diminish in 2013. Producers, reporters and web staff were among the biggest beneficiaries of the growth trend. Multimedia journalists, often referred to as ‘one-man bands,’ also continue to be on the increase—even in the biggest markets.
Context is important here: Traditional TV news is far from extinction. It’s still one of the most vibrant and effective means of communicating the drama and emotion often found in what we report. But the evidence becomes clearer every day that a station’s neglect of all the other important technologies in our increasingly connected world will, ultimately, prove a disservice both to a station and its information consumers. And you don’t want to be that station!
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