Fewer people are watching traditional television; younger audiences are increasingly viewing online video. If television news providers fail to respond to these profound shifts in how people use media, they risk eventually becoming irrelevant, a new report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford warns.
While television will remain an important medium for news in years to come, broadcasters must recognise and engage with rapid changes in the industry now. If they do not, they could lose touch with their audiences, according to the report What is happening to television news? by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Richard Sambrook.
People, especially younger people, are spending less time with traditional television. General television viewing figures in the UK and the US have declined by 3 to 4% a year on average since 2012 – directly comparable to the decline in print readership seen by newspapers during the 2000s.
If compounded over ten years will result in an overall decline in viewing of 25 to 30%. The average audience of many television news programmes is by now older than the average audience of many print newspapers, the report says.
It reveals that ITV Evening News in the UK drew about 3.4 million viewers on weekday evenings in 2010 and was down to about 2 million by late 2015. RTL Aktuell in Germany is down from about 4 million to about 3.3 million in the same period, and TF1 20 heures in France from 6.7 million to about 6 million. The remaining audience is also, like print readers, increasingly older than the population at large. In 2015, the median age for viewers of Fox News in the US was 67, MSNBC, 63, and CNN, 61.9.
However, video-sharing sites, video-on-demand services and social media-integrated video means that younger audiences watch far more online video.
“There are no reasons to believe that a generation that has grown up with and enjoys digital, on-demand, social and mobile video viewing across a range of connected devices will come to prefer live, linear, scheduled programming tied to a single device just because they grow older,” says Dr Nielsen, Director of Research at the Reuters Institute.
Dr Nielsen said this raises wider questions about whether the public interest role played by broadcast news over the past 60 years is sustainable.
What’s the solution? The report says there is no clear way forward, but the key is to recognise the challenge now, rather than to adopt a defensive, pragmatic approach. Incremental adaptation will not be enough to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
Broadcasters must harness their creative talent, strong brands and quality content to experiment, innovate, push boundaries, risk failure, and begin to reinvent themselves for an audience which increasingly prefers digital. This requires looking beyond the formats and organisational forms developed for a twentieth-century media environment.
The report also shows how news is peripheral for players like Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and Facebook, who drive the current boom in online video, primarily around entertainment. It looks at how online video news providers, including legacy broadcasters, newspapers, and digital news sites, are creating their own space in a changing media environment – developing new formats, distribution models and editorial strategies.
“This is perhaps the biggest challenge for television news,” says Dr Nielsen. “How to reinvent its core social and political mission in a new environment and find ways of resourcing it.
“The question should not be what will replace traditional television news. Nothing will. The question has to be how can we move beyond television news as we know it.”
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