The future implications for local television news organizations is a sketchy one due to the proliferation of social media and instant news at our fingertips. Waiting for the 6 o’clock news just isn’t necessary anymore. As such, local broadcasters are losing viewers to its once very profitable news programming slots.
If local news outlets are to save themselves, they will, at the very least, need to use Social media to convert people into local news television watchers. More likely, they will also need to discover new ways of profiting off of their content on social media and elsewhere online.
News on television has seen audience abandonment across the board, whether it be cable, national, and local news. But declines have been felt most sharply amongst local news organizations. In 2016 viewership was at 46% of Americans who said they often watched these programs; in 2017, that number dropped steeply to 37%. (Gottfried & Shearer, 2017)
And it would not be a stretch to say that local news audiences are a dying breed. The folks who watch local news most regularly are the 65 and older crowd. According to a Pew study, every other age group has seen steep declines of viewership and conversely steep increases in online news consumption. I said it wouldn’t be a stretch that audiences were dying off, perhaps a bit too grim of a stretch. (Gottfried & Shearer, 2017)
So, what are local news organizations supposed to do? Jobs in these organizations have disappeared since the 2008 recession. Roles in newsrooms have merged to include double and triple the responsibilities seen just 15 years ago. For instance, reporters lugging around cameras, shooting the B-Roll and interviews, shooting their stand-ups, and editing their piece. Or my favorite job post ever, “News Photographer/ Graphic Artist,” which, to me, is like trying to combine a vampire with a surfer.
Social media offers local broadcasters an avenue for reaching out to new viewers and retain older ones. For a while, Facebook algorithms were rewarding videos, and later Facebook Live posts by displaying them higher in user’s feeds. So, posting an abbreviated piece or news folo made perfect sense in terms of trying to reach out to new viewers. Although I hadn’t ever seen much evidence that it had dramatically helped increase our newscast viewership when I worked in local news marketing.
The problem for local news is the same problem for many other news content providers on the internet. People online are used to getting this type of content for free. Which doesn’t exactly help news content providers pay the bills. And unlike, say the New York Times or Washington Post, a local NBC station isn’t going to be able to erect a paywall for access to their content. It would probably be business suicide.
There is plenty of blame for why people are “cutting the cord.” The populace at large doesn’t need to sit through the many commercials on free television to get access to entertainment and news. TV schedules, outside of major events and sports, must look Jurassic to younger viewers. They know how to watch whatever the hell they want whenever the hell they want. News, opinion, an obscure Seinfeld episode? It is starting right when you press play on YouTube and elsewhere.
Others have moved to over-the-top content delivery services like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc. These are places where you don’t need a TV to “watch TV.” Some broadcast companies are trying to follow suit of reaching costumers on their own terms. Notably CBS’s over the top subscription service, CBS All Access, which has been linking CBS programming to cord-cutting consumers.
And CBS has sweetened the pot by offering some excellent shows exclusive to All Access. I’ve always been a Trekkie, so there wasn’t much of a chance I wasn’t not going to subscribe at least for a few weeks. The service also means I can catch up on local news and weather in a bathroom. And most importantly, I can monitor NFL games on CBS while my daughter watches Pink Fong on the big television. We are, unfortunately, a baby shark household.
I am rooting for the local news teams hustling around in our towns digging for scoops on local stories. It plays a significant role today, especially when one considers the rumors, outright falsities, and ultimately bullshit content that plays itself off as news on social media platforms.
Yet it is going to be increasingly difficult for broadcasters to figure out a local news model that pays the bills. What can you do? If you have a spare moment during your busy schedule, you might give local news a shot to see if that relationship can work. At the very least, give your local news a follow on your favorite social media platforms.
Gottfried, J., & Shearer, E. (2017, September 7). Americans’ online news use is closing in on TV news use. Retrieved from Pew Research Center: ttps://pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/07/americans-online-news-use-vs-tv-news-use/)
Header image composite by Ray Houghton/ Creative Commons