Who Really Watches TV News?

TV news used to epitomize what we used to call “mass media.” While TV newscasts still draw audiences larger than just about anything else in news, it has become something of a niche product. Now, we have a closer look at that niche.

A new study from the Pew Research Center gives us a snapshot of the TV news audience in 2017. In short, the trends of a smaller, older, more female audience continue. But what’s perhaps most interesting is that while cable news channels receive most of the buzz, the passion and even the ire in the national conversation, local newscasts are watched more regularly but those seeking news and information.

37 percent of adults surveyed say they often get news from local TV stations. That compares with 26 percent for traditional network newscasts and 28 percent for cable news channels.

Consider that when you hear broad strokes painted about “the media” when referring specifically to cable news. 72 percent of Americans surveyed say they don’t watch it often for news.

Important for PR professionals and ad buyers to consider is the profile of the TV news viewer. In short, day in and day out, it’s a “nonwhite” woman baby boomer. That is a relatively large demographic segment in this country, but the Pew study shows something potentially alarming for stations trying to sell advertising – 46 percent of those who say they watch local TV for news often have a household income of less than $30,000 per year.

It’s no secret that younger news consumers use online platforms to stay informed. Pew research last year showed they are more willing to read stories than their older consumer counterparts. The new research plays that out, with only 18 percent of 18-29 year-olds saying they watch local TV news often and only 8 percent of them saying same for network news. For that matter, it’s only 10 percent for cable brands.

So the answer is that TV stations will rely on their websites as cash cows? Not so fast. Some of the media trade reports we follow report that even top TV station web operations make up just 10 percent of station revenues.

The bottom line if you’re trying to understand better how the changing media landscape has affected TV – it still attracts a relatively large audience. It’s bigger, in numbers, than anything else. Local TV can still be a powerful medium for storytelling, reputation shaping and community impact.

But a deeper understanding of the audience is crucial to connecting with it.