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Study Tracks Viewers' News Habits

Web Crucial to Attracting Young News Consumers

An aggressively updated -- and promoted -- Web site is an increasingly important tool in the arsenal of TV news outlets trying to reach, engage and hold on to younger news consumers.

That is especially true when covering big stories that develop over an extended period of time, according to the latest Millennial Strategy Program research conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates.

The organization formulates the Millennial reports for clients, ranging from broadcasters to Fortune 500 companies, bent on reaching the 18- to 29-year-old adult Millennial group and viewers in other key demographics.

The new research was completed in May, just weeks after the April 16 Virginia Tech massacre in which one student killed 32 people and himself. The online survey asked 150 questions of more than 3,000 people who fall into the categories of Millennials; the next older demo, Gen Xers; and Baby Boomers. The queries focused on how respondents heard about and followed news of the killings.

Television coverage was the primary source to which all three groups turned for information on the shooting spree, but nearly a quarter of the adult Millennials first learned about the story, which began unfolding as the school day started on the campus, via the Internet.

Twenty-three percent of the adult Millennials cited the Internet as the source from which they first learned about Virginia Tech, compared with 19 percent of Gen Xers and 16 percent of Baby Boomers who cited the Web.

Worth noting: As a group, Millennials were the last to know, and 29 percent of them heard about the Virginia Tech story by word of mouth, which includes text-messaging.

In fact, in all three target demos, word of mouth was the No. 1 source of alerts to those who weren't at home, which suggests that broadcasters would profit from aggressive systems of alerts that reach people wherever they are via whatever technological platform is at hand.

On the other hand, 37 percent of Millennials first learned about the story from TV, as did 43 percent of Gen Xers and 50 percent of Boomers.

As the story continued to develop, the adult Millennials, seeking conveniently concise information, said they increasingly turned to Yahoo (17 percent, compared to 14 percent of the Gen Xers and 9 percent of the Boomers); CNN (16 percent, vs. 15 percent of the Gen Xers and Boomers); CNN.com (14 percent, vs. 11 percent of the Xers and 7 percent of the Boomers); or Fox News (13 percent, vs. 15 percent of the Xers and Boomers).

Radio finished behind the other sources among all groups.

TV Most Trusted Source

The survey results confirm that TV is the most trusted source for breaking news, and that it does the best job of retaining its audience. Of those who learned of the Virginia Tech massacre on TV, 67 percent stayed with television throughout the next few hours.

Of those who learned about the situation via the Internet, 49 percent stayed with the Internet and 20 percent switched to TV.

Still, the figures show TV is vulnerable to loss of audience to the Web as the story plays out, said Jack MacKenzie, a former news director who is the creator and president of Magid's Millennial Strategy Program and executive VP of Magid's entertainment division.

"If the broadcast networks were the dominant way people found out about it -- and they were -- as time went on, the Internet began taking more and more of people's time, and it wasn't the broadcast networks' Web sites that they went to. They went to Yahoo," Mr. MacKenzie said.

"That's where we think the vulnerability is on the TV side: To be a news brand today, you need to be a news brand of equal import on all platforms," he said.

"While the television brand continues to occupy the No. 1 space for breaking news, it does not hold the No. 1 space for how to access information about that breaking news over time," he added. "It gives way to more convenient sources, which include the Internet, which are dominated by the Internet."

What brought Millennials to TV coverage of the developing story at Virginia Tech was "in-depth" coverage (54 percent), "live" coverage (47 percent), "pictures/photos" (44 percent) and "breadth of coverage" (40 percent).

"Major events like the Virginia Tech shootings and the Minneapolis bridge collapse can be defining moments for a [news] brand. Stations that are thinking 24/7 with platform-appropriate content stand to improve their position literally overnight," said Magid Television President Steve Ridge.

When asked what TV channels they watched the Virginia Tech coverage on, Millennials cited NBC (14 percent), CNN and Fox News Channel (13 percent each), ABC (12 percent), CNN Headline News (11 percent), Fox stations (9 percent) and CBS (8 percent).

There was a different pattern to the viewing choices by Boomers, who cited ABC and Fox News Channel (15 percent each), CBS and CNN (12 percent), NBC and CNN Headline News (11 percent), CNN Headline News (11 percent) and Fox stations (4 percent).

At a Glance: News Sources for the Virginia Tech Story

TV news was the most likely source of breaking news for all generations:

  • 37% of adult Millennials found out from TV.

  • 43% of Gen Xers

  • 50% of Boomers

  • 23% of adult Millennials found out from the Internet.

  • 19% of Gen Xers

  • 16% of Boomers

Source: Frank N. Magid Associates' Millennial Strategy Program

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