TV Remains Top News Source, But Audience Is Aging: Pew Study

Television continues to be the top source for daily news, according to a new Pew Research Center report on news consumption. That follows another Pew study released Wednesday (Sept. 26) that found that local TV stations were the top source of community info.

In both studies, though, there were clear signs of the aging of that TV news audience and a move to online sources, a point Pew made right up front, entitling the study: "In Changing News Landscape, Even Television is Vulnerable."

For the first time, the percentage of those who say they regularly watch local TV news dipped below 50% -- to 48% -- although that is still within the survey's margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

But according to the news consumption survey released Thursday, while the regularly watched figure had dipped, 55% of Americans said they watched a TV news program the previous day, about on part with recent surveys, though down from the 68% who gave that answer two decades ago.

But when you ask someone in the 18-to-29 age group  the same question, only about a third (34%) said they had watched TV news the day before, down dramatically from a 2006 survey, when that figure was almost half (49%).

That trend is particularly evident in local TV and cable news programming, Pew said. For local TV news, only 28% of those under 30 said they had watched a newscast the previous day, compared to 42% in 2006. That figure has been steadily declining--36% in 2008 and 31% in 2012.

Cable news had even fewer younger viewers. Only 23% said they had watched, though that was only down from 29% in 2006. Meanwhile, the number of people 65-plus that watched cable news has grown from 38% in 2006 to 51% in 2012.

CNN was singled out for steady declines since 2008. According to the latest survey, 16% said they regularly watched CNN, down from 24% only four years ago. Fox is at 21%, down from 23% over the same period; while MSNBC is at 11%, down from 15%.

It is clear that online news outlets are getting some of the younger eyeballs. According to the survey, 41% of people 18 to 24 say they got news online the day before, while only 29% of the demo said it had watched TV news. But the spread was much narrower for the 25-29 breakout, with 41% saying they had watched TV news.

But even though there is increasing online news viewing, TV news viewers spend more time with their news shows. On average, TV news viewers spent 52 minutes a day watching TV news, while online news viewers spent an average 40 minutes.

It is also clear that folks are generally combining traditional and new media to feed satisfy their news appetites. Combining the 33% who said they use traditional media only with the 38% who says they get their news from both, 71% are still using traditional media. Only 12% said they had foregone TV, radio and newspapers for digital platforms.

Again, those number change markedly for the youngest viewers. Among the 18-to-24 set, only 11% say they are traditional-only, while 28% consider themselves digital-only and 32% say both. But many young people are opting for "none of the above," too. Between a quarter and a third of people under 25 say they got no news from any source the previous day, though that was actually an improvement from the 33% who went news-less in 2010.

The survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, was based on phone interviews May 9-June of a national sample of 3,003 adults, 18-plus.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.