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What is happening to television news?

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

We live in a golden age of television, but not of television news. Television entertainment has embraced the rise of digital media, and the best programming seems to thrive in a world where on-demand, socially distributed, and mobile video viewing is more and more important. For younger people, beyond-the-box video accounts for half of all viewing in technologically advanced markets like the UK and the US (Meeker 2015).

Television news, meanwhile, reaches a shrinking number of older viewers whose media habits are increasingly different from the population at large, and especially from the media habits of those who have grown up with digital media.

Technological developments and audience preferences have driven growth in viewing ‘beyond the box’ and a long-term decline in television news viewing.

While major television channels are still pulling in large audiences, these audiences are eroding and aging while a range of new entrants seeks to pick up younger audiences who continue to turn away from traditional television news and embrace digital media.

What Is Happening to Television News?

This development is a major challenge for television journalism. It challenges the role television news has played over the last half-century in many countries as the most used, most valued, and most widely shared source of news (see e.g. Barnett 2011, Cushion 2011).

It challenges the business models underwriting commercial television news. It also challenges the ability of public service television news to deliver on its mission, as well as its long-term political and popular legitimacy.

The full implications of the decline of traditional television viewing and the rise of online video 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 on-demand, distributed, and mobile video (see the back of the report for a list of terms).

Television news as we know it, from evening bulletins to 24-hour news channels, increasingly serves the past, not the future, and television news producers have to experiment with new formats and forms of distribution if they wish to remain relevant.

Traditional television viewing is still strong, but no longer as stable as it once was. 2015 may turn out to have been for the television industry what 2005 was for the newspaper industry, a year when the pace of change accelerated.

While we should not overestimate the immediate short-term impact, it is clear that the longer-term effect over a five-to-ten-year horizon will be dramatic. This concerns television generally, but also television news specifically.

As traditional television viewing overall erodes, television news will benefit less from lead-in programming and will see its own audience shrink faster, and television news providers will have to develop new offers and new strategies.

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