Some Notes on The Decline of TV, Rise of Social Media in American Politics

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

According to a recent report released by the Pew Research Center, 2018 is likely to be the first election year where the Internet outpaces television as a source of news for Americans. Taking a look at the graph below, it seems clear this will be the crossover year with the Internet outpacing TV by a few points.

The rate of these changes accelerated in 2017, suggesting that the long slow transition of broadcast television as the primary delivery mechanism for video to a time when we watch video whenever we choose on our mobile devices and computers has hit a significant cultural tipping point in recent months.

The chart below confirms the power of the most significant new video distributor, YouTube, which is used by more Americans than any other social media platform.

A new Neiman Lab study about social media and local TV news found that in some markets the Facebook feed of a single local TV station can outpacing that of the local newspaper. A prime reason — the easy access local TV stations have to compelling video content, something not available to many local newspapers.

Digging down on this Pew data a bit more, it is clear that this trend — decline in TV/rise in digital and social — is happening with all age cohorts. What perhaps stands out the most in the graphs below is how much Americans under 50 have migrated away from traditional television as a source for news.

And finally, the decline in TV news is happening across all sectors, including in still potent local news:

I chose to write about these new Pew findings for these changes in American's information consumption habits have been so rapid in the last few years that many campaigns and advocacy organizations may not understand they face a very different information landscape this year than 2016, and certainly since 2014. If the rate of change Pew found in 2017 continues at the same rate this year — a reasonable assumption — we will have gone from Americans saying they often get their news from TV/Digital at 57/38 to 43/48 — a 24 point shift — in just two years. This is a bit of a wow.

Two of the pillars underlying American politics — who we are (demography), and how we get our information — are going through profound and lasting change. Leaders of advocacy organizations and campaigns should be relentlessly challenging their staff and consultants to explain their strategies for how they are adapting to the new audiences emerging in the US, and the new tools required to reach them. There is no simple path here, but anyone in US politics who isn't obsessed with figuring out how to get out in front of these big changes just isn't doing it right.