A widespread crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic fuels the need for information. People everywhere hunger for any news that provides a better understanding of the potential impact on their lives. That means the media plays a crucial role during these extraordinary times, especially television, and recent ratings support TV’s news leadership.
In April as COVID-19 spread, viewership for the national cable news outlets and the traditional TV networks soared. CNN enjoyed its biggest audience gains, increasing its viewers between the ages of 25-54 by 179%. For that same demographic Fox News and MSNBC had gains of 83% and 54% respectively. You can debate whether President Trump’s daily briefing on the coronavirus helped or hurt his favorable ratings, but for the TV networks the ratings were massive.
Local TV is even more important to people. In the last two decades local TV stations have lost many news viewers, particularly the younger demographic. Still, 76 percent of Americans believe local TV news is the most highly trusted source of news. That’s by far the most of any medium. Although ad revenue during this crisis is a problem for all media, we have not seen the layoffs or furloughs at Detroit TV stations that newspapers and radio stations have experienced and one big reason may be more people are watching.
What’s happening in their state and community is what’s most important to people. And when there is a big story or a crisis of this magnitude viewers turn to those comfortable, familiar faces on television to give them the latest news. Online news available on a variety of devices certainly attracts a lot of eyeballs but it still trails television news. It’s true you may find more in depth coverage in newspapers and breaking news on the radio. But ever since wars, men in space, and tumultuous events around the world have been brought right into our living rooms Americans have relied on television news.