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Younger viewers grow hungry for news

Nov 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The take-it-or-leave-it attitude of 18- to 34-year-olds about news has disappeared since Sept. 11.
The majority of 18- to 34-year-olds say that they’re now watching more news than they did before the terrorist attacks and that it is important to be able to get news on demand.
That is the bottom line in the second in an ongoing series of surveys, commissioned by NBC, that plumb viewers’ attitudes. In the most recent survey, conducted Nov. 1 to 6, 73 percent of the 18- to 34-year-old respondents said they are watching more news than they did before Sept. 11 (vs. 69 percent of the respondents as a whole). Seventy-five percent of the demo said cable news and information channels are more important (vs. 68 percent of the sample at large).
Ninety-one percent of the young viewers believe it’s important to find out the latest news at any time (vs. 85 percent of the whole sample).
Alan Wurtzel, NBC president of research and media development, said the survey results seem consistent with the hypotheses that this generation had heretofore led a “charmed life” and was the most rattled by the events of Sept. 11. “All of a sudden they realize that they’re required to be much more connected to significant events,” he said.
“They care about what’s happening in a way they never did before because they realize they have to.”
For total day since Sept. 11, CNN is up 823 percent to an average 203,000 persons 18 to 34. In prime time, CNN is up 703 percent to an average 257,000 viewers in the demo. Fox News Channel is up 368 percent to an average 145,000 persons 18 to 34 for total day and up 271 percent to an average 215,000 18- to 34-year-olds in prime time. MSNBC is up 226 percent to an average of 140,000 persons 18 to 34 for total day and up 192 percent to an average 178,000 viewers of that age group in prime time.
Mr. Wurtzel said that because MSNBC’s audience has long skewed youngest of the three news channels, its increases tend to look less dramatic, just as CNN, which tends to be the grayest, shows the most dramatic percentage gains of young viewers. The increased viewing of 18- to 34-year-olds had brought MSNBC’s median age down from 49 years in August to 47 in September before it edged back up to 48 in October, when overall viewing levels subsided somewhat.
CNN’s median age had gone down from 66 in August to 52 in September and then back up to 54 in October. Fox News Channel’s median age went from 62 in August to 54 in September to 55 in October.
Before Sept. 11, said Mr. Wurtzel, 18- to 34-year-olds have “overindexed, if you will, in terms of consumption of news, but now they are behaving more similarly to people 35 and older who seek out news.”
Tim Spengler, executive VP and director of national broadcast, Western region, for Initiative Media North America, said ratings gains tend not to produce immediate revenue gains. Still, he said, “The dollars will follow the eyeballs in almost every case,” especially if they’re young eyeballs.
“I think some money will get there [to cable-news coffers],” said Mr. Spengler.