How The Economy is Affecting Local News

By Doug Drew 

A recent exchange of emails the last few days with Scott Tallal at Insite Media Research, a leading television news research company, produced some interesting background into how the economy is affecting local news.

In my column this week, I thought it would be interesting to share Scott’s comments.

Scott Tallal, President and CEO Insite Media Research: “We’ve been seeing some interesting patterns in several markets. Now that we’ve had a chance to digest some of the November numbers, we’re observing several distinct trends in the year-to-year analyses.

Specifically, in some markets we’re seeing large numbers of morning news viewers who aren’t tuning in nearly as early as they used to. We’re also seeing some sizeable bumps in midday and 5PM newscasts. And in each instance, the biggest shifts seem to be taking place among men. We’ve not yet had a chance to conduct sufficient primary research to draw any national conclusions regarding the cause, but these shifts have taken place alongside the rise in unemployment – so it’s probably more than just a coincidence. Those who’ve lost their jobs no longer have to get up early, and they’re also far more likely to be at home when the local midday and afternoon newscasts come on.

If this observation is ultimately borne out by research, this has dramatic implications for the people producing these shows. But regardless of the cause, it’s apparent that the audience composition has shifted (in some cases, quite sharply) throughout all of these dayparts.

The big issue isn’t just confined to 5PM. Also, while several markets are reporting an increase in viewing among men at 5PM, they rarely outnumber women (in most markets, the time period remains very female-driven).

For the past several years, AM has represented the real “growth industry” in local news; you may remember that we published a national survey back in 2001 (“Paradigm Shift”) which first identified the audience migration away from late news to 10PM and AM newscasts (and the reasons behind it).

That survey showed how changing work patterns (people having to leave for work earlier than before) were impacting on lifestyle in general and the consumption of local news in particular. If you have to get up earlier, you have to go to bed earlier — so if there’s really no appointment viewing at 10:00 then you’re far more likely to grab some local news and then call it a night. Of course, getting up earlier then means watching AM news earlier as well — so it’s all integrated.

Now, factor in the recession and skyrocketing unemployment. Many people no longer have to get up early because they simply don’t have jobs to go to. And with networks (well, except for NBC) abandoning nightly news magazine du jour and returning to more compelling programming, people are once again staying up later. Witness the problem many FOX newscasts are now having at 10PM.

Note that we’re only seeing this is certain markets, and that we simply haven’t had enough time or data to determine the extent to which it’s happening nationally. But it’s definitely worth exploring — and where it is happening, the people who produce and promote those newscasts should revisit exactly who their audience is these days and how their audience composition has changed.

Bottom line: you’re now talking to a distinctly different audience than you used to, so how should you be changing your content and promotion strategies to reflect that?”

If you would like to reach Scott, feel free to email him at scott@tvsurveys.com or send me your comments to ddrew@602communications.com.

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications.

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