Latest Trends in Local TV News

By Doug Drew 

With station budgets being squeezed, a lot of stations have put research projects on hold. That means a lot of newsrooms dont have the amount of information they normally have to make strategic decisions. In todays column I interview Scott Tallal, President of Insite Media Research about what he is seeing in news viewing. Scott was nice enough to share his thoughts with Shoptalk about current viewer attitudes and trends in the industry.

What is the latest research saying about hard news versus soft news?

The research on this is very clear: when it comes to local news, some people clearly want “features and human interest stories” along with the rest of the day’s news, while others definitely do not. Audience preference patterns do vary from market to market; they also vary from time period to time period, station to station, and by demographics. One of the most common differentiators is the amount of time people have (or choose) to spend watching a given local newscast: the more time you have to spend watching local news, the more likely you are to want more varied types of content. But regardless of how much time they have to watch, our research has also found large numbers of viewers turned off by newscasts where “nobody lives until weather.” To really keep the audience involved and engaged in a local newscast, its important to vary not just the mix of readers, packages and VOSOTs, but also the emotional range of the topics covered. A newscast which opens with two solid blocks of nothing but depressing stories may find a limited following, but research (and the ratings) have consistently shown that such an approach will always chase away far more viewers than it attracts.


Don’t many viewers include such things as “Consumer News,” “Health news, and “news you can use” as HARD NEWS?

Health news, consumer info etc. can be interpreted as either hard or soft news by viewers depending on how fresh and how serious the subject matter may be. The results of new medical research studies, new treatments, product recalls and other day & date stories are considered to be hard news because the information being conveyed is in fact “news.” But if it’s an evergreen piece not tied to a specific development of the day, then yes it can be seen as soft news.

Viewers also draw a distinction between hard news and breaking news: the latter is always a part of the former, but not necessarily vice versa.

Do you see any new trends or changes in viewer attitudes in general towards local news?

The biggest change we’re measuring: viewers becoming increasingly selective about when they watch local news, and how much time they devote to a local newscast once they start watching. We suspect that this is due in large part to the incessant repetition, but lack of relevant/compelling coverage also plays a major role.

Stations aren’t doing nearly as much research this year, so our national picture isn’t as complete as it has been in years past — but over the last several months, it looks like consumption of local news may have started to go back up as a result of the recession.

We’ve been measuring intense interest in stories about what’s been happening with the local economy (jobs, real estate, banks, etc.).

Also, the consumer research we’ve been doing outside of television (e.g. restaurants) confirms that people aren’t going out as often as they used to– so that makes them more available to watch local news.

So people are watching less and tuning out earlier when they do watch?

Many people who used to watch three newscasts a day are now down to two or even one. And when they do watch (especially early mornings), they don’t stay tuned in as long as they used to.

What is your biggest pet peeve about local news?

My own pet peeve: producers who let the 24/7 cable networks drive some of the content on their local newscasts. CNN, MSNBC, and FOX all serve an entirely different need on the part of the larger audience; as a result, they often devote hours of coverage to a story which simply doesn’t belong in a local newscast. But all too many local news producers think that just because that story’s been covered on cable for hours on end, it must be what people are talking about — when in fact, the only people talking about it are the cable news anchors with nothing else to say.

Thanks again to Scott for sharing his company’s research with Shoptalk readers.

Scott can be reached at

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications. You can reach him at