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The Future of Television News

RISJ Admin

Contributing Author

Seminar Report
Satellite television news channels had a significant role in the development of the 24-hour news cycle in the 1980s with the need to broadcast live and break news before their competitors which at the time formed the basis of much of the news media ethos.  However, Richard Sambrook, a former director of BBC global news, argues that satellite TV has now been overrun by innovative digital technology in news consumption methods, and that the television news industry has been slow to recognize this change in content gathering and distribution as an essential factor drawing in younger viewers.

With broadcasters losing audiences to digital TV and Internet platforms, he questions whether digital news gathering will lead to reinventing the entire broadcast wheel –integrating TV feeds into the Internet as Reuters TV, for example, has done. Sambrook points out that the breaking news market is no longer unique, and has been partially replaced by Twitter and Facebook audiences assimilating and distributing information.

When a BBC reporter waiting for the Duchess of Cambridge to give birth does a piece to camera outside St Mary’s Hospital, says ‘Plenty more to come, none of it news. But that won’t stop us,’ on live TV, it reminds that news must be news. Warped editorial judgments that a reporter must be live to fill airtime, not because the story is worth the time and slot, will drive away audiences. Here Sambrook recommends the need to reassess the breaking news concept and produce more engaging content to fill air time.  In addition, he argues that because audiences are more discerning and experimental, formats and choreography need changing.

However, there will continue to be a need for verification, analysis and more contextualization to news stories, Sambrook says.  Also, on the plus side for television news, Sambrook points out that 85% of consumers continue to use TV as their primary source of news; the trusted news brand still matters; additional news channels continue to come on air which means there is enthusiasm for news in Europe; and TV revenues are set to grow in the region to more than 5% in the next 5 to 7 years with advertising showing signs of recovery.

That’s the good news, but on the negative side, one can’t escape the fact that consumers will continue using multiple sources to gather information and share it further online.  There is also a demographic problem: TV needs to find its future in its audiences and news consumers are getting older faster than audiences for other genres.

Sambrook identifies a kind of identity crisis challenging newsrooms in the UK and US. Technology is changing consumer behaviour, enabling new entrants like Vice News and BuzzFeed to grab a significant chunk of the audience market, particularly for video on tablets and mobiles.  They have managed to generate enough resources to recruit foreign correspondents reporting on the web, who can cover serious global stories and present them with speed, flexibility and greater chutzpah.

Sambrook sees several key questions for the future, among them:

As the market for in-depth news packages shrink, newsrooms must compete with Internet-driven content (although this isn’t always original).
How broadcast news and the web integrate further will be a major factor in defining how the industry keep its audiences.
Multi-platform on-demand news will evolve in 5 years but is still unchartered territory.

‘Technology is putting the consumer in the driving seat and in control of the choices presented,’ Sambrook concluded.

Written by Razestha Sethna.

Richard Sambrook, Professor of Journalism and Director of the Centre for Journalism at the Cardiff School of Journalism, spoke at the Business and Practice of Journalism seminar at Green Templeton College on Wednesday 18 February 2015.

Photo credit: BSkyB Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch, being interviewed during a Sky News broadcast, is shown on television screens in an electrical store in Edinburgh, Scotland January 27, 2011. © REUTERS/David Moir