Following the Eyeballs

How do you get your news these days?

Those of us in the television business are surrounded by news, both national and local, every day. For many of us, it's why we got into television in the first place. But when it comes to news and information, is television being trumped by the Internet?

The answer would seem obvious if you're under 50; a recent report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press illustrates the fact that when it comes to the news, the proverbial "tipping point" has been reached. But it also reveals a number of interesting (and some would say sobering) facts that broadcasters should be concerned about.

istockphoto: Paul Fleet The national survey, conducted in December among 1,500 adults (reached by cell and landlines), revealed that for the first time, more consumers under the age of 30 are getting their news and information from the Internet, surpassing television as their main source. For the 65 and older set, almost 80 percent still cite television as their main source while only 14 percent count on the Internet and for the 30-49 age group, Pew predicts that the Internet will soon surpass television as the news leader.

Among the four main media sources, newspapers showed the greatest decline, followed by television (although it came in fourth among media most accessed, radio showed the greatest stability). Overall, television remains the leader, at 66 percent, with the Internet at 41 percent, newspapers, 31 percent and radio 16 percent. As recently as three years ago, three quarters of all Americans counted television as their main source of news, according to the research group. The bottom line? Among all age groups, television is declining as the main source of information.

For college graduates, about half get their news from television and half from the Internet. Household income is also tied to television's popularity as almost three quarters of households with incomes under $30,000 get their news from television rather than from the Internet. As expected, the rise of the Internet as the main news source has mirrored the penetration of broadband over the last decade and those households that are more likely to afford broadband are more likely to get their news on the Web.

For those that did cite television as their main information source, more consumers get their television news from cable news channels (36 percent), followed by the networks (22 percent) and local (16 percent). While local news remained fairly constant as a news source, cable news declined by 7 points and broadcast networks declined 8 percent compared to 5 years ago.

While not overly surprising, the report validates what most of us have predicted all along—namely that with the exception of perhaps home shopping networks and infomercials, everything else on television is moving online. But it also proposes the erroneous assumption that this is bad news for broadcasters, and that's just not the case.

Pew didn't indicate which news sites were the most popular. TV station websites, while competitive among those looking online for local news, are just a small element of what broadcasters need to consider when looking to attract eyeballs. Mobile and even IPTV (in the form of on-demand, for example) should all be part of a station's business plan these days.

Yes, consumers are increasingly turning away from the TV set and going online for their news, but that doesn't mean they have to turn away from what for many is their best source for local news: their local broadcaster, who is more likely to be the first on the scene when breaking news happens. More than ever, broadcasters need to ensure that they look beyond the traditional TV set and continue to increase their presence in a multiplatform world, where, to the news junkie, news video is news video, regardless of whether they see it on a TV screen, computer monitor or smartphone. And it's not necessarily the device that matters but rather, the source.