May 13, 1996

TV News Viewership Declines

Fall Off Greater for Young Adults and Computer Users

Introduction and Summary

Television news is in trouble with the American public. Fewer adults are regularly watching it these days. Viewership of nightly network news is particularly hard hit. Fewer than half the public (42%) now says it regularly watches one of the three nightly network broadcasts — down from 48% in 1995 and 60% in 1993.

Opinion of the network news has also eroded. An independent nationwide survey conducted as part of this study found that believability ratings for two of the four national news networks declined significantly since 1993. Two of the three broadcast news anchors also received lower credibility ratings than they did in earlier Center surveys.

Public evaluations of the credibility of print news did not decline over this period, but as in the past, most print media were rated as less believable than television news. The poll found no further decline in newspaper readership this year. Half those polled (50%) said they had read a newspaper the day prior to the survey interview. This is comparable to a Center measurement taken in June of last year (52%), and higher than observed in March 1995 (45%), at the high point of interest in the televised proceedings of the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

In contrast, the percentage saying they watched TV news “yesterday” slipped to 59% in the current survey. This percentage had been as high as 74% as recently as 1994. While the decline in television news viewing is most pronounced for the nightly network broadcasts, it was found for all TV news programming covered in the poll. Regular viewing of local TV news is still considerably higher (65%) than watching nightly network news, but lower than observed in 1995 (72%). Similarly, reports of regularly watching TV news magazines declined from 43% in 1994 to 36% in the current poll. Watching CNN regularly was also reported less often (26%) than in 1995 (30%) and 1994 (33%).

The percentage who listen to radio news is largely unchanged in the current survey, as it has been over the past five years. Four in ten (44%) said they listened to news on the radio “yesterday” in the current survey, compared to 42% in 1995. The survey found 13% of respondents reporting they were regular National Public Radio (NPR) listeners, which is not significantly different than the 15% recorded in last year’s study.

The overall percentage of Americans reading the papers, watching TV news or listening to news on the radio has changed very little in recent years. However, the number of news outlets regularly used by the public appears to be shrinking, more for television news than radio and newspapers. For example, in 1994 64% of the public got their news “yesterday” from two or more of the principal outlets — from television, a newspaper or from the radio. That percentage fell to 52% in 1995 and 1996. The percentage not using any of the three basic media “yesterday” remains twice as high as in 1994.

 

                                Trend in Use of

                             Multiple News Outlets

                             1994     1995     1996

                              %        %        %

News Use Yesterday:

 Three sources:

  Radio, TV and Newspaper     22       16       16

 Two sources:                 42       36       36

  Radio and TV                  13       13        11

  TV and Newspaper              23       16        17

  Radio and Newspaper           6        7         8

 One source:                  28       32       33

  TV only                       15       16        15

  Paper only                    7        5         9

  Radio only                    6        11        9

 No news yesterday:           8        16       15

                             100      100      100

                          (N=3667)  (N=1817) (N=1751)

 

Considering only TV outlets, the same pattern is apparent. The percentage of Americans who say they regularly watch two or more of the basic TV outlets (network, local and CNN) has declined from 62% in 1993 to 51% in 1995 to 44% in the current poll. The percentage not using any TV outlet regularly rose from 14% to 25% over this period. The only users category to increase since 1993 is the audience which watches only local TV news regularly.

 

                             Multiple TV News Outlets

                              1993     1995     1996

                                %        %        %

Regular Viewers:

 All Three:

  Network, Local and CNN       23        16       13

 Two TV News Sources:          39        35       31

  Network and Local              30        26       23

  Network and CNN                2         1        2

  Local and CNN                  7         8        6

 One TV News Source:           24        30       31

  Network only                   4         4        4

  Local only                     17        22       23

  CNN only                       3         4        4

 No Regular TV Source:         14        19       25

                              100       100      100

While it is beyond the scope of this study to fully address the question of why television news is being watched less often, there are at least three dimensions to this trend. First, younger people are turning away from TV news in greater numbers than older people. Secondly, the rate of TV news audience falloff among Americans who use computers appears greater than among those who do not use a PC. Thirdly, lack of time is the top reason given for watching less television news, and it is offered much more often by young people than by older people.

A dwindling television news audience is apparent in nearly all demographic groups, but is particularly evident among younger people. Network, local and CNN regular audiences slipped the most among people under 30 years of age, followed by those 30-49 years of age. Regular viewing of all three types of news programs was off only slightly, or not at all, among people 50 years of age and older.

 

                         Trend in Regular Viewership

                                   By Age
                           Network Nightly News

                           March 1995    April 1996    Difference

                                %             %

AGE:

  18-29                         36            22           -14

  30-49                         42            35           -7

  50+                           62            62            0

                           Local TV News

                           March 1995    April 1996    Difference

                                %             %

AGE:

  18-29                         64            51           -13

  30-49                         72            63           -9

  50+                           77            76           -1

                           Cable News Network (CNN)

                           March 1995    April 1996    Difference

                                %             %

AGE:

  18-29                         25            19           -6

  30-49                         30            24           -6

  50+                           32            33           +1

Declines in television viewing may be related to the increasing use of personal computers, which has grown markedly in the past year, particularly among younger people [For more information on computer use, see "Technology in the American Household: Americans Going Online...Explosive Growth, Uncertain Destinations." Times Mirror Center for The People & The Press. October 16, 1995. Washington, DC]. The percentage watching TV news “yesterday” fell more among people who use computers and go on-line than among people who do not. Of note, reading a newspaper “yesterday” also declined to a greater extent among these groups, but was offset by increased readership among non- computer users. Listening to radio news, which often occurs while performing some other task, did not decline among computer users.

                         Trend in News Consumption 

                           Among Computer Users

                       Watched TV News Yesterday

                       June 1995    April 1996    Difference

                           %             %

Computer User              63            56           -7

  Also goes on-line        63            54           -9

Non-User                   66            63           -3

                       Read Newspaper Yesterday

                       June 1995    April 1996    Difference

                           %             %

Computer User              55            49           -6

  Also goes on-line        62            48           -14

Non-User                   48            51           +3

                       Listen To Radio Yesterday

                       June 1995    April 1996    Difference

                           %             %

Computer User              49            50           +1

  Also goes on-line        51            52           +1

Non-User                   36            36            0

When respondents who acknowledge that they are watching less TV news are asked why, "lack of time"
 is the reason given most often by far. Younger people gave this excuse much more often
 than older people. 

                         Reasons People Give For Watching:

                             Network Nightly News Less Often

                                     ----------Age----------

                            Total      18-29    30-49    50+

                              %          %        %       %

No time/Too busy              48         64       50      21

Don't have TV/Not 

  readily available           15         12       18      10

Critical of coverage          14         2        14      31

No interest in it             12         9        12      15

Get the same info from

other forms of media          10         5        10      15

Other                         5          2        4       10

Don't know/No answer          5          12       3       4

                             Local TV News Less Often 

                                    ----------Age----------

                            Total    18-29    30-49    50+

                              %        %        %       %

No time/Too busy              50       55       55      36

Critical of coverage          15       9        15      17

No interest in it             14       12       13      17

Don't have TV/

Not readily available         12       13       10      14

Get the same info from

other forms of media          8        2        9       13

Other                         6        2        5       10

Don't know/No answer          3        8        1       1

While young people blame lack of time for less news viewing, they spend as much time as older people engaging in a variety of other media activities. Center surveys have shown that young people devote about as much time as older consumers to watching entertainment TV and reading books and magazines. They spend more time using computers, but decidedly less time following the news on TV or in the newspapers.

 

                  TIME DEVOTED TO MEDIA USE  "YESTERDAY"*

                                 By Age
                                        18-29 30-49 50-64 65+

                                          %     %     %    %

DAILY NEWS USE:

Read Newspaper 30 Min. or More            17    33    47   57

Watch TV News 1 Hour or More              28    30    44   60

Listen to Radio News 15 Min. or More      28    37    31   34

OTHER MEDIA:

Entertainment TV viewing 3 Hrs. or More   27    22    28   36

Read Book 15 Min. or More                 27    29    29   31

Read Magazine 15 Min. or More             25    26    30   31

Use A Home PC 3+ Days A Week              54    46    41   38

* All figures are from February 1994 except for computer use 

  which comes from June 1995.

 

Cite this publication: “TV News Viewership Declines.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (May 13, 1996) http://www.people-press.org/1996/05/13/tv-news-viewership-declines/, accessed on July 23, 2014.