Digital Advertising

Why Is Local TV News Exploding?

Means-Mark-pro-photoWhy are local TV stations investing in more local news broadcasts when every bit of research tells them they ought not to?

There is no debating the need for a multitude of news services. A democracy must have plurality of voices for the distribution of news, general information as well as editorial perspectives from different points of view. The modern digital age has increased the number of news sources exponentially. It’s brought a never-before-realized immediacy to the dissemination of news events (e.g. Arab Spring).

While national and international news is upended by competition from digital technology, local hasn’t been disrupted nearly as much. Still, surprising viewership trends show a relative stagnation in local News viewership.

Timeslot 2010 2011 2012 2013
Morning News 11.6 11.8 11.3 11.9
Early Evening News 23.9 23.6 22.0 22.7
Late News 25.3 26.1 24.2 24.3

Source: Pew Research Center (Data in millions)

Why, then, is Local News so important?  Three primary reasons: breaking local news; traffic and weather. While this is not surprising there are some factors at play that are curious.

Even with the proliferation of news sources available online the majority of Americans turn to TV for news. A recent Gallup Poll indicates 55% of Adults rate TV as their primary News source followed by the Internet 21% then Print 9% and Radio 6%Within TV the most popular source of News is via Local stations (71% Reach) followed by Network (65%) then Cable (38%)*.

Of particular note is the ever-growing number of Local Newscasts. A Radio Television Digital News Association 2014 study found the number of TV stations running local News broadcasts rose to a record of 1,026. The same study found the median number of hours dedicated to news was 5 hours per weekday or 21% of total daily broadcast hours. Note this median takes into account small local stations that depend on third party syndicators for programming. These stations normally do not broadcast local news.

Why would stations allocate more programming hours to a stagnant growth area? The reasons are, of course, monetary. While cost of original and syndicated content increases, local News is a palatable option for stations from an out of pocket standpoint. Just as Reality programming has taken up large swaths of Network Prime real estate due to their relatively lower cost structure.

While the number of hours of News coverage increases the individual stations resources both on-air and behind the scenes talent remains constant. Income for this type of programming is quite lucrative as the chart below indicates. Though the income trend is somewhat dormant it still hovers around $20 billion per year.

Year $’s (Billions) Change
2011 17.9 -8%
2012 19.7 10%
2013 19.1 -3%
2014 20.3 6%
2015 19.9 -2%

Source: Pew Research Center

From an advertiser’s standpoint News programing is alluring as it offers a highly engaged audience. Thus more hours of News programing creates a more desirable, higher CPM inventory for Local stations to sell. An analysis of TV ad spending by motif indicates “News” accounts for 16 to 18% (2013 & 14 figures respectively) of all TV ad spending. The next highest program type is Comedy, which is in the single digits (Source: Kantar Media)

It seems as Local stations have tapped out of TV News content as we currently know it today. The standard talking heads application for News sharing has not changed since TV’s broadcast infancy in the 1940’s. While Local TV is still the undisputed primary source of News currently a new generation of media consumers looms on the horizon. To capture their attention a new approach will need to be employed. However until that time comes Local stations will milk the money making cow that is News.

Mark Means is the VP, Director of Communications Planning at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Mark is a 20-year veteran of media planning.  He has worked for a solid cross-section of media agencies, including Maxus, PHD, MPG, Initiative, Media Edge and Mindshare.  His media experience runs the gamut from packaged goods to retail to automotive to financial to health.  You name it and he has most likely had experience in that business segment.