Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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Television’s last hurrah? Digital is the future’s choice, but TV still rules the news

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, Americans prefer watching the news rather than reading or listening to it. And among watchers, television is the preferred medium, followed by the internet. Radio and print, on the other hand, continue to decline in popularity. The survey of 3,425 US adults, who are members of the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel, was conducted between July and August this year.

People love to “watch” the news

The survey found that 47% of Americans prefer to watch the news rather than read or listen to it. Those who prefer to read the news stand at 34%, while listeners make for 19%. These figures are all nearly the same compared to those from a similar survey in 2016.

Among those who prefer watching the news, 75% said they prefer television, while 20% watch online, an increase compared to 12% in 2016. While television is holding its ground against online video when it comes to news, 63% of those who preferred reading the news said they did it online, over 17% who chose print formats.

Overall, 7% of those surveyed chose the print format as their preferred way of consuming news, down from 11% in the 2016 study. The radio is the preferred platform for news listeners, with 52% saying they would rather listen to news on the radio than listen to it on TV, or on the web.

The only substantial differences compared to the 2016 survey are a small increase (6%) in online consumption and a small decrease (4%) in print consumption.

Online is on an uptick

These findings may appear to be a cause for worry for digital news outlets and newspapers that have poured considerable resources into their digital avatars. But when these figures are seen in the light of an earlier survey, the outlook appears to be brighter for online media. The survey conducted last year found that the gap between the share of Americans who get news online and those who do so on television is narrowing.

Adults younger than 50 are more likely than those ages 50 and older to prefer the internet as the platform for getting news, regardless of which format (reading, watching or listening) they enjoy most.

Amy S. Mitchell, Director of Journalism Research, Pew Research Center

Also, Pew data from 2016 shows that younger adults prefer to get their news via text, not video — it’s those over age 50 who tend to prefer news via video. The current survey also found that 76% of the respondents in the 18 to 49 age bracket preferred to read the news on the web, compared with 43% of those who were 50 and older. Moreover, nearly all Americans get some news through digital means.

TV watching is on the decline

Going beyond news, traditional TV watching is on the decline especially among the young. Television viewing in countries like the UK and the US have declined by 3 to 4% per year on average since 2012. If compounded over ten years, this trend will result in an overall decline in viewing of 25 to 30%.

The loyalty and habits of older viewers prop up overall viewing figures of TV news watching, but times are changing. According to Reuters Institute’s Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, “There are no reasons to believe that a generation that has grown up with and enjoys 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.”

When looked at from the perspective of those who are in the 18-49 age group, digital news actually has an edge over traditional television news, unless some radical innovation in traditional TV changes the narrative.


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