Looking for something upbeat in the latest annual report on the state of the media may be a fool’s errand. No matter how you slice it, the news about local TV news is grim. But buried in the fine print are hints that after two horrendous years things are getting a little better, at least on the economic front.
- Stations are expected to make more money this year. Not much more–just 3-5%–but that’s a far cry from the 22% drop in 2009.
- Local TV websites are making money. Online revenue was up 26% last year, to $1.3 billion, and station sites are gaining market share.
But it’s going to be difficult for stations to build on those positives if they can’t solve their biggest problem: the audience for local TV news keeps getting smaller across the board. The report says viewership was down on average by more than 5% in all time slots. Even the one-time growth area, early morning newscasts, lost about 6% of their audience. The only time slot that held its own was at 7 p.m., where some stations have added local news following their network newscasts.
Figuring out how to bring the audience back is critical for stations in the near term, because news still brings in about half of most stations’ revenue. Their websites are making money, but 90% of the revenue still comes from their on-air product, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism report.
So here are a couple of questions I’d suggest local stations consider. Have they diluted the audience for any single newscast by adding news in more time slots throughout the day? Have they driven viewers away by diluting the quality of their newscasts, by slashing staff and joining news-sharing partnerships? Would fewer newscasts with more substance be one way to bring them back?