TV stations and programmers that don’t embrace social media are missing a good portion of their potential audience. And to maximize audience, programming must be available where viewers access digital content. Social media also ranks highly among millennials in deciding which TV shows to watch.
How did you first hear about the Memphis police officer slain during a traffic stop, the discovery of a piece of missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370, or the shooting of Cecil the lion? If you said, “on TV,” you’re probably in the minority. During the day, breaking news emails direct me to online sites; on evenings and weekends, I’m more likely to first get reports on Facebook.
Social media also impacts viewers’ decisions when they turn to television programming. It’s generally not the guide description that draws the audience, it’s the expectation honed by digital commentary.
As these examples show, stations and programmers that don’t embrace social media are missing a good portion of their potential audience. And to maximize audience, programming must be available where viewers access digital content.
The Pew Research Center just published a study entitled “The Evolving Role of News on Twitter and Facebook.” Not surprisingly they found that 67% of Facebook and Twitter users under the age of 35 report the social media sites are now their top source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family, up from 55% in 2013.
The role of social media as a news source is also growing among those over the age of 35, with 59% now saying they get their news from Facebook or Twitter. Overall, Pew found the “clear majorities” of Twitter (63%) and Facebook users (63%) said they got news from the social platforms, a substantial increase from 2013, when the numbers were 52% of Twitter users and 47% of Facebook users.
The two social media powerhouses are taking advantage of these trends by investing in platforms and applications that may help to increase their role as news sources. They include Twitter’s Project Lightening and enhancements to the video streaming app Periscope it purchased earlier this year. For its part, Facebook has launched an Instant Articles service and launched a Trending sidebar for breaking news stories.
With respect to content, there are four topics that Twitter news users reported seeing at higher rates than Facebook news users, according to the Pew study. National government and politics (72% vs. 61%), international affairs (63% vs. 51%), business (55% vs. 42%) and sports (70% vs. 55%) enjoy higher rates on Twitter while topics like. people and events in your community, local weather and traffic, entertainment, crime, local government, science and technology, and health and medicine are roughly comparable between the two sites.
Another area of commonality for the social media sites is the rate their users post about news, which amounted to roughly a quarter of both Facebook (28%) and Twitter (23%) news users. In both cases, more than two-thirds of their users indicated they had posted about news at least at some point in their use of the site.
The study also found younger users are placing a higher value on these sites as their sources for news. Nearly half (49%) of Twitter news users under 35 say the site is the most important or an important way they get news, compared with 31% of those 35 and older.
These findings are consistent with what we heard at Media Finance Focus 2015 a couple of months ago. One of our annual conference sessions focused on “Millennial Media Perspectives.” We tapped a panel of younger MFM members to talk about millennials’ media experiences and motivations.
Let’s start with breaking news. When an earthquake hit the East Coast in August 2012, “The first thing I did was go to Facebook, and people were talking about it,” recalled panelist Ana Townsend, an assistant controller at Bonten Media Group who was working on the 25th floor of the company’s New York building.
Social media also ranks highly in deciding what TV shows to watch. When asked about how they discover TV shows, all of the panelists said they’re most apt to rely on personal recommendations — either by talking with friends or engaging in social media — when figuring out what video content they want to watch.
In fact, TV listings were considered “completely irrelevant” in the experiences of our sample of three. As one of them explained, “I already know what I want to watch when I sit down…. I don’t just turn on a device and see what’s on in the moment.”
Their comments were very consistent with the findings of the latest annual Deloitte Digital Democracy Survey that were presented in another conference session by Jerry Belson, a vice chairman and leader of the firm’s U.S. Media and Entertainment Sector.
As Belson shared with our attendees, the study found watching live television has been declining across all demos, with U.S. consumers watching “live” television less than half (45%) of the time. The figure is even more acute among younger viewers, with “trailing millennials” (14-25 year-olds) reporting only a quarter of the television programming they watch occurs at the time of broadcast. Consistent with this time-shifting trend is the continued increase of binge-watching, with two-thirds of viewers watching three or more episodes of a TV program in one sitting.
Another interesting finding Belson cited involves how much TV programming is being consumed on media devices other than a TV, particularly among millennials. Trailing millennials say it’s about 57% of the time while “leading millennials” (ages 26-31) say it’s about 43% of the time.
In addition to underscoring the importance of TV Everywhere access to television programming, the Deloitte Digital Democracy Survey and our millennial panelists also highlighted the growing interest in cord-shaving and unbundling. The Deloitte study, which has been tracking year-to-year increases in purchasing TV channels à la carte, found more than half of this year’s survey respondents said they prefer to subscribe only to the channels they watch regularly.
Our millennials session panelists provided some insight for this trend. “We’re willing to pay in baby steps, $5 here and $10 there,” said Thomas Hancock, a senior analyst of global content operations at Discovery Communications. While all their subscriptions for entertainment and information might collectively cost $80 a month, “we feel like we have a little bit more control over the content. We’re not paying $150 for cable and Internet and watching 2% of the channels we’re getting. The reason we like to piece things together is we know we aren’t paying for stuff we’re not using.”
Noting Baby Boomers are adopting a similar point of view when it comes to their pay TV subscriptions, Deloitte’s Belson observed: “The theory used to be that the younger set would eventually adopt their parent’s spending behavior; but with respect to pay TV, we’re seeing the parent’s adopting their kids’ attitudes toward media spending.”
You can find additional insights on these trends, as well as examples of how media organizations are responding to them, in the current edition of our member magazine, TFM – The Financial Manager, which is available to non-members in digital format on our website for a limited time.
While it requires innovation, investment and willingness to tackle the organizational issues that can arise from embracing new distribution channels and your talents’ use of social media, it is the best way to ensure your station’s programming remains your viewers’ top source of news and entertainment. After all, as Cox’s Neil Johnston reminded our group in May, local media typically has the most trusted reputation around; and that translates to credibility in social media.
Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.