October 24, 2020

Amid the many new media offerings available to consumers, it’s easy to lose sight of long-standing, dependable choices—even when they continue to drive significant engagement. The news is one such option, and amid the trifecta of a pandemic, widespread social unrest and a U.S. presidential election, it remains a vital connection to both the world at large and our local communities.

While the time consumers spend watching TV news has been rising since the fall of last year, it peaked at just under nine-and-a-half hours each week in April of this year—the height of the stay-at-home period in the U.S. Fast forward to September, American adults are still engaged with news, watching an average of 7 hours and 5 minutes of TV news per week, which is up 23% from the same period last year.

While the high engagement with news in March and April is noteworthy, it’s not surprising when you consider consumers’ first exposure to information about COVID-19 and its implications here in the U.S.—as well as the fact that most of the country was in lockdown and media consumption skyrocketed while consumers were largely homebound. With so much in flux this year, news will remain a staple in consumers’ ever-expanding media diets. However, with so many options available, individual news outlets will need to continue providing information relevant for their audiences to maintain and grow audiences.

Engagement this year has not been a problem, with news consumption rising even as outdoor activities picked up during the spring and summer months. In June, for example, Americans 18 and older were watching an average of more than eight hours of TV news each week—more than a typical workday. Last year, the average in June was just over five-and-a-half hours.

Importantly, the news engagement over the past year has shattered any residual stereotyping that the news only appeals to older Boomers and members of the Greatest Generation. While consumers 55 and older do watch the most news, younger generations are driving the growth of news consumption. In fact, consumers 18-34 increased their total news consumption by 134% between 2019 and 2020. And what’s more, news viewers are growing increasingly diverse, with Hispanic, Black and Asian viewers driving significant gains over the past two years.

There’s no question that 2020 has presented an array of national and international topics to drive news engagement, and local TV news maintains its stance as the option with the greatest reach. Whether it’s to check for COVID-19 updates, learn about local political candidates, catch the highlights from the regional sports teams or just drop in to know tomorrow’s weather, local news delivers in ways that only it can, and it’s arguably never been more important.

Much like how radio listeners tune in to hear their favorite DJs, our local communities depend on and trust their newscasters for up-to-date, relevant and meaningful information that’s top of mind for the communities they serve. In that respect, it’s no surprise that local news has the greatest reach of all news types. So where does local news have the greatest reach? It’s a tie between New Orleans and Tulsa. Tulsa has held the spot as the top local news reach market for the last three years, and New Orleans was also near the top in the second quarter of 2019.

However, the current local news market with the third largest reach, Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville, is a little more unusual. Typically closer to the middle of the pack, Greenville is a market that includes major cities in two states (South Carolina and North Carolina), and differences in political leanings and local COVID-19 responses could account for the rise in engagement.

So how should stations, networks and marketers plan for the future? The answer is simple: follow the data. By knowing which types of information consumers are looking for and on what platforms—as well as in which markets—media industry participants will stay in the engagement driver seat.

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