How important is local TV to your media relations plan?

A recent Pew study found that TV news dominates local markets, but airtime for PR pitches is limited.

If you want your pitch or press release to reach the most possible residents in a geographic region, TV might be the way to go, but hold on. There’s a big caveat.

The dominant role of local TV was one of the most significant takeaways from three-city study of local news conducted by Pew Research Center and financed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and released this month.

The study examined local news climates in three U.S. metro markets: Denver; Macon, Georgia, and Sioux City, Iowa. One of the key findings was that local TV news grabbed the biggest audience share among all types of news media. Local surveys taken last year showed TV drew 68 percent of the local news audience in Sioux City, 66 percent in Macon and 58 percent in Denver.

Before you start shifting your media outreach more toward local TV, however, consider this: In five consecutive days of poring over news content in each city, researchers found traffic, weather and sports segments ate up about one-third of the TV newscasts.

During the remainder of those newscasts, short voiceover items read by anchors represented 71 percent of news segments in Sioux City, 62 percent in Macon and 55 percent in Denver. The study points out that those voiceovers require little original reporting. (This is seemingly where a press release could shine.)

Nonetheless, local TV news does wield influence. “Just as residents in all three cities turn to local TV at higher rates than any other news source, local TV is in many ways more omnipresent,” the study report states, citing the presence of at least three news-producing TV stations in each market.

During their five days of tracking, researchers tallied 25.5 hours of local TV news each weekday in Denver, 14 hours in Macon and 11 hours in Sioux City.

“The stories that got the most attention from local TV providers tended to be event-driven items with strong visual components,” the report states, offering the disappearance of a 19-year-woman from a Denver suburb as an example.

The study cautions that these three cities “are not meant to be extrapolated to the nation as whole,” but they do offer a glimpse into factors affecting the local news landscape.

Researchers reviewed local news content produced in June 2014, and surveyed local adults in July and August 2014. Audits from July 2014 through February 2015 identified nearly 200 news providers among the three metro areas.

Other findings from the study:

  • Only 23 percent of Denver residents often get local news from their main daily newspaper, compared with 36 percent of Macon residents and 40 percent of Sioux City residents.
  • 68 percent of Denver residents, 66 percent of Macon residents and 56 percent of Sioux City residents got news digitally from at least one local news outlet.
  • At least 25 digital-only news providers operated in Denver.
  • In Sioux City, 37 percent of local news stories produced during the five-day study period came from niche outlets, such as alternative weeklies. That figure was 35 percent in Denver and 11 percent in Macon.
  • Just six of the 24 news providers in Macon and seven of the 31 news providers in Sioux City offered digital content on a daily basis.

John Egan is editor in chief at SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that helps people find and book self-storage. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJEgan .

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