Television struggling to adapt to time-shifting audiences

Millennials are presenting news organizations with an ultimatum of sorts: adapt to our concerns or lose us for good.

Over the past few years, a digital revolution has changed the way many Americans receive news. The consensus seems to be that if traditional TV can’t keep up with the access demands of the current generation, news outlets will alienate their audience.

“Public media has a mandate to engage with the community,” said Teresa Frontado, digital director of WLRN, South Florida’s affiliate of National Public Radio.

Univision 23 television station in Miami. (Photo by Ashley Acevedo)

News is becoming more accessible, which could benefit those who would rather search mobile devices than sit on their couches waiting for news.

Americans might want to kill their television — but not the news they’ve come to rely on.

Frontado said WLRN’s TV and radio stations have witnessed a 35 percent increase in their digital audience since last year. WSVN, a local television news operation, also connects with millennials through social media.

Some stations are losing audience members to this digital trend. Univision, the Spanish language television network, lost $30 million in its 2016 third quarter report, the Los Angeles Times reported. Millennials have been turned off by Univision’s traditional novelas and have instead tuned to other streaming programs displaying stories that appeal to Latin Americans.

So Univision plans on spending about $100 million to hire young writers and producers. Univision also began televising events such as the Latin soccer cup “La Copa de Oro,” and continues to host the highly rated Hispanic award show “Los Premios de la Juventud.”

Jose Zamora, Univision’s senior vice president of strategic communications, noted that 75 percent of their audience uses cellphones, and 80 percent uses social media. About 90 percent of U.S. Hispanic households use Univision as a news source.

Meanwhile, WLRN continues to strive for more interaction with their audience. The station uses the Hearken Process, which is designed to help news organizations listen to the public, as a story develops, from pitch through publication. Hearken engages viewers in a story by allowing them to ask questions, vote on preferred stories, and share stories.

Another tactic news organizations and local TV stations use to grow digital audiences is to develop their own apps. WSVN allows listeners to follow their stories online and on their app, which offers people notifications about local events.

WSVN hired a full-time social media producer, according WSVN’s web executive producer Steven Cejas, who finds content to post on the app and reviews WSVN’s social media demographics.

Some news organizations have formed “strategic alliances,” said Zamora. Univision has combined with Netflix to begin streaming their news programs. WSVN has also signed an agreement with Hulu Live to stream their daily news programs.

Frontado’s largest challenge has been to make WLRN’s stories more widely heard. According to a Pew Research poll conducted in 2013, 54 percent of people receive their news from their mobile device. In 2016, the number increased by 18 percent.

Vince Filak, associate professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, said that online media are favored by many audience members because of its on-demand content.

“The minute a baseball game ends, I can get the score and find out what led to that score. I don’t have to wait until 10 p.m. and watch an hour of SportsCenter to find out what happened,” Filak said.

Television is expected to simplify by allowing consumers to choose their own “skinny” bundles. A skinny bundle allows the consumer to chose fewer channels rather than the traditional 100-channel bundle.

Some historians believe this shift will die out soon and Americans will return to print news. Accurate reporting will draw viewers back to traditional media norms, said Myron Belkind, a lecturer in George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.

Print journalism may be losing money now, but it will bounce back once readers begin searching for honest news, Belkind said.

Either way, experts believe that the new business will continue to try and adapt to its audiences, whether through old fashioned reporting, new technology, or everything in between

“Journalism is constantly evolving,” said Gilbert Klein, an American University senior lecturer in journalism. “And it will change how we see the world.”

Watch this video to learn more about his story.