Local TV saw a significant 6.5% drop in audience size between 2011 and 2012, finds Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in its State of the News Media 2013 study. Network TV also saw a decline, of 1.9%, while other news sources such as newspapers (-0.2%), magazines (-0.1%) and audio (-0.1%) remained relatively flat. And despite 2012 being an election year, cable saw only a 0.8% gain. That’s a troublesome indication for cable networks, for whom political news is traditionally a strength.
The only news source to see a significant audience gain was digital, up 7.2%.
News organizations are having trouble benefiting from the shift towards digital news consumption and the related advertising opportunities, according to the study. Digital advertising rates have been pressured downwards, leading to many organizations shifting towards a subscription model that puts content behind pay walls.
Part of the problem has been the dominance within online advertising of paid search (see here for details), a format that news organizations have difficulty leveraging. Even within the display ad market, which should prove most beneficial to news organizations, there are real challenges: a handful of organizations (e.g. Google, Facebook, etc.) control a large portion of the market, and can be seen as more favorable destinations for advertisers than news outlets’ sites.
News sites may well be hoping that 2 more recent (and for the time being, smaller) digital ad formats hold more promise. The study notes that video advertising (latest figures here) gives news organizations the ability to charge higher rates for the content on their sites. But efforts by large organizations such as Reuters and the Wall Street Journal so far have had limited success. Other traditional publications such as The Atlantic and Forbes have delved into sponsorship, or native, ads, which are expected to grow.
Nevertheless, despite all the online challenges and the apparent decline of legacy media as news source, the Pew study still shows that TV is the most popular way for American to get their news. Citing a survey it conducted in September 2012, the Pew report indicates that 55% of respondents reporting getting their news “yesterday” on TV. Still, that’s down from 58% in 2010. Not surprisingly, the big gainer is digital, up to 50% reporting access “yesterday” in 2012, up from 44% in 2010, and good for the second spot.
About the Data: The audience findings methodology can be accessed here.