Source: Ali Velshi / Quartz
Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to changing viewer tastes and habits. After 12 years at CNN, I needed to better understand why doing more of the obvious isn’t helping to grow an audience, even for long-standing brands. Cable news audiences are increasingly fickle, and fewer and fewer of them are tuning in.
The latest audience survey, conducted in February among 4,000 Americans aged 18-64, underscored cable TV segmentation trends unfolding for years. The national survey of news consumption habits (paid for by networks and channels, generally for use in ad sales) confirmed facts that many outside the television news industry might find surprising. For example, the average cable news viewer is in his or her sixties. It’s not hard to explain when you realize that the younger audience has grown up on greater choice, not just in terms of the number of hyper-specific channels available to them, but because they can time shift, watch video on demand, and get much of their news and analysis on their tablets or phones. Scheduled news, and current affairs programming is left to those who still like to get their information from an anchor or host they know on a channel they trust at a particular time, and on an actual TV. But that audience is shrinking and aging at the same time.
Younger audiences don’t make as clear a distinction about the source of the information. They need to trust it as much as an older viewer does but, to them, the distinction between mainstream and new, non-traditional news sources is fading.
What hasn’t changed is the idea of choosing a curator for your news and information. It’s why Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters and Walter Cronkite reached the heights they did. News and current affairs shows, like museums, have more inventory than they can possibly put on display in their allotted time, so they choose the things they think viewers will want most. Audiences sign up for the shows they think curate most closely to their own tastes.
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