Consumers turn to local media for latest on COVID-19

After years of losing audience share to digital platforms, local television stations report higher ratings as viewers seek out the latest information on COVID-19 and its effects on their community.

The audience research firm Magid says, “At the height of the crisis, 79% of consumers were getting local news about the virus daily and almost half (45%) multiple times a day.”

“Consumers truly feel like local television news is looking out for their family and community,” says Dick Haynes, Senior Vice-President of Research for Magid. “What a great opportunity for local TV to do what it does best.”


SmithGeiger, another audience research firm, reports a similar surge in ratings, especially in the early days of the pandemic. “We saw all demos wanting to have the reassurance of a known voice or familiar team explaining what was happening and what the impact was,” said Seth Geiger, President of SmithGeiger.

Although audience levels have dropped since the onset of the pandemic, SmithGeiger says, as of May, 70% of Americans still watch the 5 PM local news at least once a week. “The trust that has been placed in local news has stayed relatively stable and is still at a very high level.”

The new look in local news

Viewers don’t seem to mind that many reporters, anchors, and broadcast meteorologists are delivering the news from home or other socially-distanced remote locations. With many places under mandatory mask order, viewers are also getting used to seeing reporters wearing face-coverings. And noticing when they are not, prompting a few television stations to publish explanations on why their anchors aren’t wearing masks.

This new norm hasn’t hurt credibility.

“Half of U.S. adults said their local news media get the facts right about the coronavirus outbreak almost all or most of the time,” reports Pew Research, which included television stations, newspapers and other local media in a nationwide study. “About nine-in-ten Americans (87%) are following coronavirus news fairly or very closely.”

More news produced by less staff

Consumers might be watching more news, but many newsrooms are operating with less staff due to layoffs and furloughs, as documented in a long list maintained by the Poynter Institute.

There might be a cut-back in staff, but this is not a time to cut back on coverage. As Haynes points out, “People turn to and depend on their local TV station’s newscast to provide them with the information they need to know.”

He continues, “Consumers are sampling right now, making it the perfect time to reinforce or reassess your brand position, and keep feeding that desire to watch.”


Tim Heller is an AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, Talent Coach, and Weather Content Consultant. He helps local TV stations and broadcast meteorologists communicate more effectively on-air, online, and on social media.

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