A new survey of more than 60,000 U.S. adults 25 and older takes some of the air out of assumption that young people have abandoned local television.
On one hand, the survey did find that 55% of those ages 25 to 34 (a mixed cohort of Millennials and Gen Zs) report never watching (30%) or hardly ever watching (25%) local broadcast TV.
And yes, that’s in definite contrast to older audiences. Among those 55 to 64, 52% watch local broadcast TV daily, and 16% watch a couple of times a week, and the watch rates are even higher among those 65 and older.
However, a significant 21% of the 25-to-34 segment watch local broadcast daily, and another 14% tune in a few times a week, according to the study, conducted in June by the TVREV analyst group, in conjunction with Publishers Clearing House Insights and EShap.
Further, a surprising two-thirds (68%) of Gen Zs and Millennials stream local news across various platforms.
That’s more than any other, older age group. More than half (55%) of all of those over 45 report that they never stream news from local sources. But even among those 55 to 64 and those 65+, 45% and 35%, respectively, say they do stream local news (chart top of page).
“While many older viewers aren’t streaming local news, enough of them are that when you combine them with the sizable number of younger viewers who look to streaming for local news, this market seems quite promising,” notes Alan Wolk, TVREV’s cofounder and chief analyst.
Whereas 60% of those 65+ and 52% of those 55 to 64 said they would be fair/very upset if their local broadcast networks went away and they could only find their local stations through streaming, 51% of 25-to-34-year-olds and 46% of 35-44-year-olds said they wouldn’t be upset at all.
Still, a significant 28% of 25-to-34-year-olds said they would be upset.
Also surprising: Fully 38% of respondents overall said they weren’t sure how they’d feel, indicating at least some attachment to the medium.
“People can’t really imagine a future without local broadcast TV,” observes Wolk. “This is a good sign that if local stations adapt for the streaming era, they can retain their relevance—and their audience, since younger viewers seem to expect their television, even local broadcasters, to wind up on streaming.”
“With Millennials and Gen Z now taking over the American ‘heads of household’ mantle, the urgency for TV news publishers to move their content to streaming increases every day,” adds Evan Shapiro of EShap. “The upcoming election cycle, and its billions in [advertising] revenues, offer local publishers both a challenge and an opportunity: migrate your primary output for news to digital platforms, for audiences and advertisers, and reap the rewards. Don’t, and you may not make it to the next election cycle."
"It’s also important to note that broadcasters are not the only TV providers offering local news coverage," Shapiro stresses. "Cable companies like Comcast and Charter offer local news channels to subscribers, often with more in-depth local political and legislative coverage than the happy talk on local broadcast. Their ability to offer virtual cable bundles to consumers, and local content — either directly via apps, or through efforts like Comcast and Spectrum’s new Xumo JV — could prove to be a competitive advantage.”
Asked about all of the non-broadcast TV sources they use for local news, sports and weather, the two segments between 25 and 44 confirmed that they rely mostly on websites and apps (around 50%). And even among those 65 and up, 38% depend most on those same sources. The surprise was radio, which came in second among all age groups except those over 65. In that group, it was basically tied with local newspapers.
Among other survey findings:
When all ages and incomes are looked at in total, the figures are fairly split, with 42% saying they watch every day and 37% saying they watch hardly ever or never.
Local TV viewership doesn’t vary much by income level, with 39% to 44% of viewers at all income levels reporting that they watch daily.
Even among older demos, prime-time broadcast is not a major reason to watch local TV. Only 34% of those over 65 report that they watch prime time. One potential reason may be that viewers associate prime time with the network rather than the affiliate that runs it.
The full survey results, along with insights from industry experts, are detailed in a report, "Local TV: Perils and Promise in the Age of Streaming,” available for free download until November 15.