Research Behind the Numbers: News Audience

The Internet is on track to surpass TV networks as a source of news.

In a recent ZDNet column about the future of news distribution via traditional media, Jesse Berst predicted a substantial weakening of viewer-/readership and a consequent decrease in ad revenues. Citing a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press ( report that reveals how Americans accessed news from 1993 through the present, Berst presented a case for an all but inevitable shift toward online dominance of news distribution. And he asserted that by 2004, “roughly half of Internet ad spending will come from the pockets of the traditional media, and newspapers will be the biggest losers.”

The trend actually goes back several years (see chart). As recently as 1996, the Pew report indicates, virtually no one was using the Internet as a news gathering source. This is possible, although the web was thriving among early adopters by then, and no demo has proven itself to have a bigger appetite for information, including news.

Looking further back, the report shows a steady decline in TV network news viewership, from 60 percent of Americans in 1993, to about 35 percent this year. Local TV news has fared somewhat better in the report, experiencing an up trend during the 1996-1997 period, but then tracing a more favorable but parallel downward curve of its network counterparts.

For TV network news executives, perhaps the most alarming implication of the Pew research is that in 2001, online news gathering by the public will match network levels, at about 30 percent each. Beyond 2001, it appears that the Internet will exceed network news performance, on the way to matching local news a few years hence. How do executives at traditional media companies respond to these numbers? And have media buyers and planners changed their focus in anticipation of such market shifts?

Scott Filipps, general sales manager for Clear Blue Media (, an Internet network aggregator with about 10,000 sites, reports that offline sources that ignore branching out to the web are taking a big risk. “We see online ad spending reaching $16 billion by 2003, so we’re expanding to meet that level of demand,” he says.

Laura Durkin, svp in the news division at Fox (, is convinced that large conglomerates have a distinct edge because of the synergy between multiple news outlets. “We are aware that many users routinely go back and forth between TV and the web,” she says, “so we transform a variety of information across the delivery platforms. We’ve found that our audience is not so much leaving TV as it is adding the web as a channel for news gathering. In the end, you just have to have all your bases covered,” she concludes.

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