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Local TV news needs to woo millennials and younger viewers

Local TV News Faces Challenges in the Internet Age

August 31st, 2016   ||    by Todd Wasserman

Local TV news often provides fodder for the Internet as videos of interviews gone wrong, or bloopers, have a tendency to go viral. When it comes to actual news consumption, though, local TV may be having the last laugh.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of the public still watch the news on TV versus 38 percent who get it online. Some 80 percent of adults who watch their news (instead of read it) name TV as their preferred platform.

On the other hand, video-based news is still a fairly new format online. These days, if people are choosing to read their news, it’s online rather than in print. If video follows the same path, local TV news may struggle. However, if local TV can offset the trend by providing a device-agnostic distribution platform, then it can maintain its edge.

Current News Consumption Trends

Millennials consume their media differently from baby boomers and gen Xers. The news is no different. Another Pew study in 2015 found that millennials’ primary source of political news is Facebook—some 61 percent reported getting their news from the social network. About the same number of boomers—60 percent—said they got such news from local TV. Gen Xers, on the other hand, used TV and Facebook at roughly the same rate.

For those in the TV business, the trend is troubling. According to AdvertisingAge, overall, all four of the major TV networks have seen a huge decrease in viewership over the past ten years. According to Nielsen, viewers aged 18–24 watched ten fewer hours of TV per week in 2016 compared to 2011.

Matter of Trust

While it seems like millennials are ditching TV en masse, there is hope. While many are getting their news from social media, the Pew study showed that just 4 percent actually trust the information they receive.

Facebook has attempted to address this trust gap with new algorithm tweaks that bury clickbait and bogus headlines, notes TechCrunch. However, as the election season has illustrated, even posts from legitimate news sources can be misleading. Pew research suggests some 47 percent of “consistently conservative” readers, for instance, get their news from Fox News, which liberals distrust.

Twitter has also recently sought to make itself more of a destination for news. However, both the sources and the spin depend greatly on the type of users you follow.

Implications for Local TV

The outlook is not all negative for local TV. For one, there has been a switch towards video and away from print-based media on the web. US adults spent an average of five and half hours per day watching video in 2015, according to eMarketer. That’s about the same as in 2011, but now one hour and fifteen minutes was spent watching video on digital devices versus just twenty minutes in 2011. The introduction of the high-speed 5G network in 2020 will likely hasten this trend.

A 2015 study by Altman Vilandrie & Co. and EPIX also found that cable providers could convince cord-cutters to return if those consumers knew there was a TV anywhere option. To attempt to woo those consumers back though, local TV news stations need to do a better job of providing such content. Many of their websites are slow-loading, packed with ads, and don’t render well on mobile.

The research shows that consumers are looking for trusted video news that they can access on any device, including TV. If local TV stations don’t meet these needs, they might find themselves in the same position as newspapers today.

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