20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
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2050
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2040
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2030
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2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

The business of local TV news will enter its downward slide

“Local television news is produced as a market-wide product in a media environment where audience-specific, targeted content is thriving.”

Billions in political campaign advertising revenue will disguise it, but 2020 will be the year when local television news begins the downward slide that has plagued local newspapers.

Local TV stations will still be highly profitable in 2020, following the proven cyclical pattern in which revenue increases in election years and decreases in non-election years. This, along with still-robust retransmission and licensing fees, will suggest a vitality in local television news that’s actually being undercut by a shrinking and aging audience.

Cord-cutting is changing the way audiences consume content. Some consumers are dropping their cable subscriptions, opting only for streaming options like Disney+, HBO Now, and Netflix that are thought of as “add-on services” and therefore include no local content. Those people will then have limited to no exposure to local television news. With other streaming services positioned as cable replacements — including Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, and YouTubeTV — the availability of local television content varies substantially by market and channel. But even when local content is available, the enormous amount of other engaging content pulls on people’s time and attention. That will leave less time and attention that are to be spent on local television news.

Because of cord-cutting and young people’s changing relationships with the places where they live, the audience for local TV news is aging. Just 18 percent of adults 18 to 29 years old say they often get news from their local television stations. That’s compared to 57 percent of those 65 years and older. The graying of the local television news audience will continue.

Local television news is produced as a market-wide product in a media environment where audience-specific, targeted content is thriving. Too few local television stations are utilizing the opportunities afforded by digital platforms to serve niche audiences in their marketplaces. And even the best of that content is often difficult to find on their websites, which are typically not user-friendly, or on their crowded social media streams, which pair breaking news with evergreen and more targeted content.

If local TV stations want to remain the vibrant sources of information they’ve been historically, they must avoid the two tropes that marked newspapers’ downfall: “Young people will age into consuming the news” (they won’t) and “Habits don’t change” (they do). Local TV stations should use today’s favorable revenue flows to actively invest in serving the diversity of the marketplaces in which they’re based, delivering thoughtfully targeted content to audiences through a multitude of social and digital channels.

Rachel Davis Mersey is associate dean of research and professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, [and] Integrated Marketing Communications.

Billions in political campaign advertising revenue will disguise it, but 2020 will be the year when local television news begins the downward slide that has plagued local newspapers.

Local TV stations will still be highly profitable in 2020, following the proven cyclical pattern in which revenue increases in election years and decreases in non-election years. This, along with still-robust retransmission and licensing fees, will suggest a vitality in local television news that’s actually being undercut by a shrinking and aging audience.

Cord-cutting is changing the way audiences consume content. Some consumers are dropping their cable subscriptions, opting only for streaming options like Disney+, HBO Now, and Netflix that are thought of as “add-on services” and therefore include no local content. Those people will then have limited to no exposure to local television news. With other streaming services positioned as cable replacements — including Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, and YouTubeTV — the availability of local television content varies substantially by market and channel. But even when local content is available, the enormous amount of other engaging content pulls on people’s time and attention. That will leave less time and attention that are to be spent on local television news.

Because of cord-cutting and young people’s changing relationships with the places where they live, the audience for local TV news is aging. Just 18 percent of adults 18 to 29 years old say they often get news from their local television stations. That’s compared to 57 percent of those 65 years and older. The graying of the local television news audience will continue.

Local television news is produced as a market-wide product in a media environment where audience-specific, targeted content is thriving. Too few local television stations are utilizing the opportunities afforded by digital platforms to serve niche audiences in their marketplaces. And even the best of that content is often difficult to find on their websites, which are typically not user-friendly, or on their crowded social media streams, which pair breaking news with evergreen and more targeted content.

If local TV stations want to remain the vibrant sources of information they’ve been historically, they must avoid the two tropes that marked newspapers’ downfall: “Young people will age into consuming the news” (they won’t) and “Habits don’t change” (they do). Local TV stations should use today’s favorable revenue flows to actively invest in serving the diversity of the marketplaces in which they’re based, delivering thoughtfully targeted content to audiences through a multitude of social and digital channels.

Rachel Davis Mersey is associate dean of research and professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, [and] Integrated Marketing Communications.

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