Future of TV News Taking Shape as Viewership Drops

Apr 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project study released last month, more than 50 million Americans check out news online each day. The same report also found that teenagers are more likely than adults to get their news online and that high-speed Internet users under age 36 are beginning to slowly evolve away from traditional outlets such as local TV news.

As the demographics of news consumption continue on the seemingly inevitable path away from television and toward the Internet, local TV stations will need to find new ways to stay relevant and interesting to the next generation of news consumers. That’s why Ball State University started a class this past semester to teach students how to produce an interactive TV newscast, a newscast that young viewers won’t tune out and will actively seek out because it feels more like the Internet.

“We have been trying to figure out the future of news,” said Timothy Pollard, a professor at Ball State who teaches the interactive news class. “We have 18- to 20-year-olds who don’t read the newspaper and don’t watch the evening news, and to them ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart is their main source of TV news. And the Internet is their main source of news.”

To illustrate that point, he said, in his most recent class, only two of 13 students indicated that they watch traditional TV news, while 11 said they get their news solely from online sources.

So young viewers won’t watch news in old-fashioned ways, but they may want old-fashioned news delivered in new ways where they can control what they see.

Instead of telling the news in a linear fashion with an anchor introducing a story and then handing off to a reporter, an interactive newscast allows viewers to pick and choose the topics that interest them.

“It’s giving viewers the experience to control what he or she wants to see,” Mr. Pollard said. “We are not saying the linear newscast is dead. There will still be a market for people to sit down and watch, but for others you have to give them a reason to come back.”

Newscast of the Future

Here’s how this newscast of the future would look.

A viewer turns on the news and sees the traditional video with an anchor occupying most of the TV screen. However, on the right side of the screen will be four or five different visual links to topics such as top story, national news, local news or sports, in a layout akin to a Web portal.

Viewers use a remote to click on links and buttons lined up alongside the video of the anchor or reporter. In this future vision of news, users can also return to the main newscast and watch more. This sort of interactive navigation lets a station super-serve viewers. For instance, a station might cover an environmental story and offer more details on E85 ethanol fuel, featuring man-on-the-street interviews. In this case, a station can use more of the video it shoots because it would have the space in a nonlinear newscast to deliver additional content.

That means journalists will also need to tell and craft stories differently in the future; they’ll be creating traditional news packages but also offering raw interview footage and both shorter and longer segments, Mr. Pollard said.

Mr. Pollard acknowledges this vision of news is several years away: “We are not teaching for 2006, but 2008, 2010, 2012. We want our students to leave here being ahead of the curve.”

His class produced such a newscast this past semester that ran on local PBS affiliate WIPB-TV in Muncie, Ind.

“The students are ready to do this,” he said. “Their world is so technology driven. They have cellphones and computers and iPods, and they are used to all that stuff.”