What is happening to television news?
This question, the focus of a report by former Director of BBC News, Richard Sambrook, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, is on the minds of many of the world’s major news organisations.
After all, television viewing in the UK and the US has declined, on average, by three to four per cent per year since 2012, something that Sambrook and Kleis Nielsen believe is comparable to the declines in print newspaper circulation at the beginning of this century. Young people are moving online for their news: iPhone apps, Facebook ‘Live’ reporting, and Twitter ‘Moments’ are becoming more and more popular in the 21st Century.
The report, published by the Reuters Institute, draws out many of the core issues surrounding the future of television news, but perhaps the key idea presented in the thirty-page document is that of experimentation.
The authors note: “The need for experimentation is for us the most important conclusion from this review of what is happening to television news. We know traditional television is important but eroding. We know online video is growing rapidly and will continue to become more important as digital media becomes ever more important.
“And we know that finding the right way forward between these trends will require constant adaptation and a willingness to change, to try things out, to fail, and to learn from failure without losing sight of the underlying urgent need to change.”
This change undoubtedly revolves around the digital age. Broadcasters, both publicly and privately owned, can move ahead in a variety of ways. The report draws upon the work of Lucy Küng, who has identified seven features that innovative digital news organisations have in common: a clear sense of purpose, unequivocal strategic focus, strong leadership, a pro-digital culture, deep integration of digital technology talent and editorial talent, digital operations with a high degree of autonomy from legacy operations, and an early start relative to their competitors.
These are just words in a report, for now. Sambrook and Kleis note that traditional news providers have not put these features in place, as many key figures in broadcasting regard digital media “with a mix of scepticism, fear, and incomprehension rather than see them as a set of challenges to be confronted and opportunities to be seized.”
For television news to succeed, providers need to face the onrush of new challenges and make the most of the opportunities provided by the flourishing field of digital media. There is a future for television broadcasters; after all, the US population alone watches more than one billion hours of television every day.
However, as the report concludes, there is a clear opportunity for the world’s digital players—such as Google TV, Apple TV, and Amazon TV—to combine digital news with televised broadcasts.
There must be a balance: a balance between television and online broadcasting. The video market is ready to be conquered, while television remains an important vehicle for reaching large audiences.
The future of television news is aptly summarised by Sambrook and Kleis Nielson:
“The question should not be what will replace traditional television news. Nothing will. The question has to be how can we move beyond television news as we know it?”