As TV viewership changes, TV newsrooms must too

January 10, 2018 01:30

In 2017, gap between television and online news consumption narrows from 2016 A recent Pew study indicated a quickening decline in TV news viewership. The research showed fewer Americans, including fewer older Americans, “often” get news from TV. According to the survey, local TV still has a larger pull than network or cable TV news, but local also experienced the greatest decline from last year’s survey.
The widely shared report has been met with a mix of resignation and despair. But is the news for local TV stations all bad?
Local TV news hours are up
RTDNA’s own research shows that, while fewer stations are originating local news, the amount of weekday TV news in hours actually hit a high in the last year, with more stations adding newscasts.   
Just this week, Telemundo announced 10 of its stations will be premiering an additional midday newscast later this month.
But, as former RTDNA Chair Kevin Benz points out, “Stations are producing more newscasts because local production is cheap with higher payback potential from selling local advertisers.” In other words, more local news shows doesn’t necessarily mean a return of lost viewers.
Local newsroom profitability is up
So what about the business side? The news isn’t all bad here either. Our latest research also shows that TV newsroom profitability is up, with more newsrooms saying they are showing a profit than have since 1996. The election year may have had a particular impact, but profitability has been trending level or up since 2010.
So while the decline in viewers isn’t helping local stations, it doesn’t herald the impending death of local TV news.
This is also far from the first time local news has been written off due to changing consumption habits.
Just a couple of months ago, outlets announced the death of local news following the sudden closure of several local news websites.
As RTDNA Chair Scott Libin said at the time, “the demise of any news outlet is a loss to the community and not to be minimized…the meaningful journalism being practiced by TV stations in so many communities deserves recognition.”
Successful newsrooms are innovating
Take, for example, the 18 local TV newsrooms awarded Edward R. Murrow Awards in a new category this past year: innovation. Their work is bringing compelling, unique, and fresh approaches to news.
Or see one of the most shared articles we’ve posted on our Facebook page in the last week, a look at RTDNA corporate member TEGNA breaking the mold of local news with new formats, new stories and new voices.
How TV newsrooms must adapt
The decline in viewership isn’t the end of local TV news, but newsrooms have been slow to adapt. There’s no one answer, and there’s no simple answer, but there are some things you should be thinking about as a newsroom manager.​
From Benz: “Stop thinking of ‘TV’ newsrooms. These are now multi-channel newsrooms providing information to a community expecting to know now and not patient enough to wait for the next newspaper or 6p newscast.  All newsrooms provide information as a commodity and those that can provide the most relevant, compelling and timely information on the right channels will win.”
  • Get creative on revenue sources
Newsrooms may be profitable, but not enough to fill out your budget. Many newsrooms have been successful in trying new strategies and models, particularly taking advantage of your strength: localism.
  • Get back to mission
“ Provide the important information needed by the local community you serve,” says Benz, and deliver it to your audience when and where they need it. TV viewership may be down, but the need for strong local news isn’t.
  • Embrace the possibility of failure
Innovating means taking risks, which brinks the possibility of failure, a legitimate concern but also a great teacher for leaders willing to experiment and analyze.
Changing habits of news consumption will likely be permanent. As Benz says, “This is a natural evolution due to generational change and technology, no different historically than the move from newspaper to radio or radio to TV,” as “information wants to flow faster and more freely.”

Are you ready?