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Local News, Linear TV See Resurgence During COVID-19, Says Survey

(Image credit: WABC)

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.—The COVID-19 pandemic is fueling a resurgence in viewership of local news and linear television in the United States, according to the results of a survey conducted in March by international research and strategy firm SmithGeiger.

“It is clear that the world has changed for most Americans, and that local news has played a critically important role in helping audiences to find solace, feel safer and gain important insights into how to navigate past the confusion and to regain a sense of wellbeing,” says Seth Geiger, co-founder of the firm.

The survey of more than 1,300 U.S. news consumers ages 18 to 64 revealed that local news has become the primary destination for trusted news and information during the pandemic. Further, the reach of local news has grown 20 points, and daily viewing has nearly doubled to 35%. Eighty-two percent of respondents report watching local news, and 91% use at least one local news platform.

The robust growth in local news viewership coincides with the close attention Americans are giving to the pandemic. The survey found 59% are paying a great deal of attention, and another 33% are paying some/moderate attention.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said the pandemic has affected their lives at least somewhat. Seventeen percent reported being significantly impacted, and parents ages 35 to 44 said they have been most significantly impacted at 28%, the survey found.

One in five respondents said they have lost wages due to the effects of the pandemic on daily life, while 81% reported having their livelihood and pocketbooks affected.

“This unprecedented event is disrupting daily habits, sowing confusion, anxiety and uncertainty, and driving shifts in media patterns as Americans seek out personally relevant information, with clarity and reassurance that will help them to manage and navigate this dynamic landscape,” said Geiger.

Another of the shifts is the resurgence of linear TV, the survey found. Two years ago, watching streaming content surpassed linear TV viewing with Americans ages 25 to 54 spending more time with OTT content. However, the survey found this trend has reversed during the pandemic, with linear TV re-establishing itself as the leader over SVOD—although both have seen dramatic expansion, SmithGeiger said.

Social media is helping Americans stay connected with friends and loved ones during the rise of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. The survey found Facebook is the primary platform Americans are using to stay connected, with 63% reporting checking the platform daily. For respondents ages 18 to 24, Instagram was the top platform.

However, the most frequent users of Facebook, trust in the platform the least, the survey found.

PLUS: Pandemic Brings TV to the Forefront

When asked about what they expect to happen as a result of the virus, 54% said they believe their lives will change for the worst in the coming weeks. Half said they were uncertain about what’s to come, 47% said they were anxious and 43% said they were alarmed.

However, 55% said they believe society will emerge for the pandemic stronger. Forty-four percent said they can’t wait to go shopping, and 39% said the crisis has brought out the best in their family and friends, the survey found.

More information is available on the SmithGeiger website