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Utah media landscape a story of three screens

Published: Saturday, March 23 2013 8:05 p.m. MDT

The survey also showed that nearly the same percentage of younger consumers who got their news from a social networking site (33 percent) viewed a television newscast (34 percent). And among all age groups, news consumption via mobile and online platforms spiked from just below 25 percent in 2006 to 39 percent last year, while consumption of traditional print, radio and television media declined.

Daily news diet

Janet Thaeler in Fruit Heights is among those news consumers KSL and KUTV are targeting. Seconds after her morning alarm goes off, she reaches for her smart phone on the night stand and begins scrolling through her email and Facebook news feed.

"I feel really empty and weird if I don't do that," says the 41-year-old mother of two who works in public relations. "It's my ease into the daytime."

Thaeler looks for headlines that will grab her attention. She may follow those stories, along with others recommended by Facebook friends or those she follows on Twitter, throughout the day via her phone or laptop. She also subscribes to a newspaper on the weekends and listens to the radio while driving.

The steady daily diet of news and information doesn't end until the 10 p.m. television newscasts sign off, which Thaeler and her husband watch from their bed. They have their phones or tablets nearby to jump to websites where the news anchors tell them they can find more information.

Catering to consumers like Thaeler isn't easy for TV managers who have to win the loyalty of a young demographic for the future, while not alienating the faithful older viewers that advertisers, who pay for the newscast, want to target.

A major source of tension between the push to the future and pull to preserve the past is television ratings. The antiquated system of determining advertising rates by tracking viewer preferences four different months out of the year is universally criticized by broadcast executives, consultants and academics for failing to give a true picture of how consumers interact with their local television stations.

"It's an increasingly irrelevant statistic," said Gabriel Kahn, co-director of the University of Southern California's Media, Economics and Entrepreneurship program. "The problem is so much effort spent in the newsroom is still based around trying to please a measurement standard that has less and less relevance to the audience. The longer that goes on the bigger the disconnect becomes between the audience and the products that are produced."

In the Salt Lake market, advertisers prefer the Nielsen TV ratings because it's what they have relied on for decades. But local station managers complain that Nielsen's sample of viewers is too small, the responses unreliable and the resulting ratings don't measure viewer interaction with websites, mobile apps or social media pages.

"It's not the best measurement but it is the currency that we have to work with," said Tim Ermish, president and general manager of KSTU, the local market's FOX affiliate.

Crawford said KUTV's owner, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, dropped Nielsen late last year for about three months. He scrambled to sign up with Rentrak, which has a sample of 50,000 viewers compared to Nielsen's 400, but he struggled to get ad buyers to accept a different database.

"Those 90 days (without Nielsen) were very challenging," Crawford recalled. "Rentrak is a very good research company and I would say their database is larger and research is better. But they are not accepted by the buying community. Buyers said, 'If you can’t use Neilsen I can’t do business with you.'"

Sinclair has since allowed KUTV to use Nielsen again.

Peggy Conway, an advertising buyer with Love Communications, said Nielsen provides good demographic data and that advertisers judge its usefulness by how much business television advertising generates.

But she agrees the broadcast media market has changed drastically in the 30 years she's been in the business and advertisers are coming around to realizing they too need a multi-platform strategy.

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