Excerpt from RTNDA article “Local TV News is Going #DigitalFirst” published on August 20, 2019
While TV viewership hasn’t cratered yet, the prognosis isn’t good. Younger viewers who grew up with streaming video, on-demand video libraries and social media can’t imagine sitting down in front of the television to watch a linear 6 p.m. newscast, with stories chosen and ordered by someone else. Instead, they want information that matters to them, via the collective wisdom of their social media friends’ “shares,” delivered to them on mobile devices, when and where they want to view it.
This trend is starting to show up in annual surveys of TV viewers. A recent study by the Pew Research Institute, for instance, found that, while local TV is still Americans’ “preferred method” of getting news, daily viewership dropped as much as 19 percent between 2017 and 2019.
With no sign that this trend will reverse itself, TV stations are right to experiment with converged “digital first” operations. But even without going all-in on digital, a good start is to consider things like:
- Meeting younger viewers where they are in the digital world. That means less emphasis on Facebook and Twitter, and more stories posted on Instagram and Snapchat, where studies show younger people prefer to post.
- Encouraging talent to post more “personality” posts on social media. Since people like sharing news from friends, they’re more likely to re-post things from reporters they think they “know.”
- Recognizing that a TV story doesn’t become a web or social story, just because it’s posted online. Web and social stories need to be more viral – and include things like vertically-shot video, subtitles instead of narration, quicker cuts, and a faster pace, in order to get more clicks.
- Including more evergreen stories in the daily news mix, since they have more shelf life than day-of stories when posted online.
- Experimenting with longer-form storytelling, like podcasts or online-only documentaries. They can give deeper perspectives into current events or look back at how issues have developed over time. That’s something traditional local TV news can’t do well, because of its time constraints.
- Developing streaming apps and content for OTT devices like Roku, Apple TV and Smart TVs. As the number of “cord cutters” grow, these devices can help in distribution, and provide a place for subscription “extras” like high school sports highlights, hyper-local information, and the longer-form documentaries mentioned above.
Changes like this are never easy or cheap, but they’re necessary for local TV news to avoid dipping to black forever.