What is Happening to Television News?

Digital news project, Reuters Institute, 2016

30 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2016

See all articles by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

University of Oxford - Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Richard Sambrook

Cardiff University

Date Written: April 6, 2016

Abstract

In this report, we analyse what is happening to television news. We map recent changes in traditional television viewing, the rise of online video, and a range of examples of how different organizations are working with new forms of television-like news developed for a digital environment.

We show how recent years have seen significant declines in traditional television viewing in technologically developed markets, and a rapid rise in online video viewing driven by video-sharing sites, video-on-demand services, and the integration of video into social media sites. Television is still an important medium, and will remain so for years to come, but it will not be the dominant force it was in the second half of the twentieth century.

Television viewing in countries like the UK and the US have declined by 3 to 4 percent per year on average since 2012. These declines are directly comparable to the declines in print newspaper circulation in the 2000s and if compounded over ten years will result in an overall decline in viewing of 25 to 30 percent. The average audience of many television news programmes is by now older than the average audience of many print newspapers.

The decline in viewing amongst younger people is far more pronounced both for television viewing in general, and television news specifically, meaning that the loyalty and habits of older viewers prop up overall viewing figures and risks obscuring that television news is rapidly losing touch with much of the population.

There are no reasons to believe that a generation that has grown up with and enjoy 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. This raises wider questions about how sustainable the broad public interest role broadcast news has played in many countries over the last sixty years is.

Television news is still a widely used and important source of news, and will remain so for many older people for years to come, but if television news providers do not react to the decline in traditional television viewing and the rise of online video — in particular on-demand, distributed, and mobile-viewing—they risk irrelevance. The full implications of the changes we identify here will not be felt immediately, as current viewers will continue to watch for years to come. But the challenge needs to be recognized now and acted on if television news providers want to reinvent themselves and find an audience that increasingly prefers digital media to television, and increasingly embrace on-demand, distributed, and mobile video distributed online.

Many different kinds of news organisations, including legacy broadcasters, print legacy media, and a range of digital pure players, are experimenting with different kinds of television-like and online video news to reach audiences, especially younger people. We review some of what they are trying to do below and show how a limited number of new players, most notably video on demand providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and platforms like Facebook and YouTube, are currently leading the move towards a video-enabled internet and that, while there are impressive experiments with both long-form in-depth content, shorter clips, and various modes of distribution, no one seems to have found the right recipe for online video news or IPTV news. None of the platforms and on-demand services that dominate online video focus on news.

The fact that no-one has found the right recipe for doing online video news in this rapidly changing environment takes nothing away from the urgency of adapting to it. Television as a platform may well be about to face disruption on a scale comparable to what printed newspapers have experienced over the last decade. Television news providers face this transition with many strengths, including well-known brands, creative talent, and deep archives of quality content, but they also risk being constrained by their legacy organisation and culture.

Television news providers who wish to reach younger audiences, adapt to this changing environment, and remain relevant will therefore need to continue to invest in innovation and experimentation, and can learn much from established insights into organisational traits that enable innovation in digital news.

Keywords: journalism, news, television, digital media

Suggested Citation

Nielsen, Rasmus Kleis and Sambrook, Richard, What is Happening to Television News? (April 6, 2016). Digital news project, Reuters Institute, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2771080

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism ( email )

13 Norham Gardens
Oxford, OX2 6PS
United Kingdom

Richard Sambrook

Cardiff University ( email )

Aberconway Building
Colum Drive
Cardiff, Wales CF10 3EU
United Kingdom

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