Are More People Getting Their News Online Than on TV? The Answer May Surprise You

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New data from the Pew Research Center says that U.S. consumers would rather watch the news — not read or listen to it — and would prefer to do so on TV, not online.

“Their viewing loyalties have yet to migrate fully to the web,” the report says. “Just over four-in-ten U.S. adults (44%) prefer TV, compared with about a third (34%) who prefer the web.”

PJ_2018.12.03_read-watch-listen_0-02Source: Pew Research Center

The “TV” preference accounts for news viewed on either local, network, or cable channels — and seemingly does not include those who watch televised news on such channels through a streaming device or service (like Roku or Hulu).

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 2.31.06 PMSource: Pew Research Center

The report arrives in the midst of mixed reports about the health and trend of online news platforms and consumption habits. Following last week’s news of massive layoffs at online media site Mic — and how that potentially reflects the future of digital media — some, like Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan, wonder if the online news “bubble has burst.”

But things are not always as they appear on the surface. While this data may appear to correlate with the Mic news, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the end of digital news consumption is near — and it could, alternatively, signal that preferences will continue to dramatically change in a short period of time.

Here’s a deeper look at the data, and what it could mean for the future of news consumption.

TV vs. Web

First, we wanted to see how news consumption preferences varied across different regions. Pew’s research focused on American respondents, so we decided to survey news viewers (861 of them) across the U.S., UK, and Canada — and ask them for their prefer method of consuming the news.

How do you prefer to get your news_US dictionData collected with Lucid

It’s worth noting that different language was used for each region surveyed based on how television is provided in each country, and the language used to describe it.

What we might know as”major network” evening news programs in the U.S. are sometimes known as “supper-hour broadcasts” in Canada or “broadcast television” channels such as BBC or Channel 4 in the UK.

For “cable news networks,” we used the terms “24-hour cable news networks” in Canada and “pay television channel news programmes, like Sky” in the UK.

Online_local newsData collected with Lucid

The first thing we noticed was that the highest number of respondents indicated that they prefer watching the news on online news websites. However, the same percentage of respondents said they prefer to consume news on local channels and program. Digital news media isn’t over, it seems — nor is local news.

The Gradual Shift in Preferences

What wasn’t specified, however, was the specific nature of the online news sites preferred by consumers — whether it was the online version of traditional newspapers like The New York Times, or an online-only news outlet. 

In any case, it points to a “closing of the gap” between the number of consumers who prefer to get their news from TV and those who do so online. Although the preference to watch news on TV continues to outpace that of online viewing, it’s shrinking (slightly).

PJ_2018.12.03_read-watch-listen_0-04Source: Pew Research Center

As per the figure above, the number of people who want to watch news on television has dropped by 5% since 2016, while the number for those who want to do so online has increased by 8%.

PJ_2018.12.03_read-watch-listen_0-03Source: Pew Research Center

Furthermore, not everyone prefers watching the news, and according to the Pew study those who prefer to read it would rather do so online.

Looking Ahead

What was particularly interesting to us was the number of respondents who indicated that they prefer to read the news via print publications. 

Print newsData collected with Lucid

While 17% may appear to be a fairly small portion of participants, it is interesting to note that it was the third-highest response — and outnumbered the total of those who said they prefer to get their news on social media.

There are a few things that could account for these figures.

First, there are age demographics to take into account. The Pew report, for instance, found that while most consumers between 18-49 still prefer to watch news on TV — more than two-thirds of those from that age group prefer to get their news online than those who are over 50.

PJ_2018.12.03_read-watch-listen_0-05Source: Pew Research Center

As sources of news and those who watch it continue to evolve and age, then, it could signal a further closing of the gap between TV and online consumption preferences.

Second, our findings (which somewhat align with those in the Pew report) could indicate what’s ahead for the likes of Facebook as a source of news — which only 7% of respondents said is there preferred method of getting this information. 

social media newsData collected with Lucid

Over the course of 2018 — since Facebook announced in January that it would overhaul its News Feed algorithm to prioritize content from friends and family over those from pages — many businesses and outlets have observed a dropped in engagement.

Business Pages, for instance, had seen a 50% drop in engagement by August, and many news outlets struggled with Facebook’s new rules for promoted posts so much, they gave up on publishing ads to the site altogether. 


Source: Buffer

“I think there’s a mix of lost trust, changing usage habits, and the level or cadence of news being so high,” says HubSpot VP of Marketing Jon Dick, “that people are looking for more curation on what matters.”

Combined with a growing preference for online news consumption, the mix alluded to by Dick could point to a future where news consumers begin to lean more heavily into specialized aggregation sites — like Flipboard, for example, where editorial and subject matter experts regularly curate news items across the web according to different areas of existence.

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 4.22.28 PM

Stay tuned for what’s to come in 2019.


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