"It used to be that you could put all of your budget on TV and didn’t have to do anything else," she said. "Now it’s all about a good mix of TV, digital and whatever other media. But ... the number of hours and people reached by TV is still number one."
Television captured 43 percent of advertising purchased in 2011, according to data collected by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, with the Internet a distant second at 26 percent.
But that same data show the greatest opportunities for advertising are in the Internet and mobile space, where there was a combined $20 billion opportunity gap between consumer time spent and advertising dollars spent on those platforms.
The Pew report concluded that so far technology giants like Google and Facebook have "outflanked" the local news industry in the digital space with their ability to target even national advertising in local markets.
In February ratings, KSL radio's news and information programming was No. 1 from morning drive to its afternoon "The Browser" and evening "Nightside" shows. And that performance is in a market with the highest number of radio signals per capita in the country, said Program Director Kevin LaRue.
But while KSL leads the market in both radio and internet reach, it has experienced a steady decline in TV viewership and ratings since 2003, hitting its lowest ratings point in February. Part of the drop can be attributed to the retirement of its news anchor teams at KSL and on-air stability at KUTV and that station's affiliation with the country's strongest network, CBS, said news executives at both stations.
KSL executives said what has taken the most direct hit on its ratings is the decline of its network affiliate. In February, NBC became the first to ever finish fifth in a sweeps month, ranking behind the Spanish-language Univision. And primetime network programming can either deliver or drive away a local audience for the 10 p.m. newscast, a station's most lucrative time slot.
"We don’t have an audience delivered from prime time," Vea said.
While the ratings decline has been painful, it has also revealed KSL has a loyal viewership that tunes in despite a weak lead-in from NBC, she said. In February, KSL's ratings grew an average 80 percent from 9:45 p.m. to the time its 10 p.m. newscast began.
"That’s a win for us," she said. "That’s a good thing that we are able to convert that much of audience from nothing."
How much of the loyal TV audience comes from KSL's digital users or radio listeners is anybody's guess since the current ratings systems don't measure that.
Thaeler's habits illustrate how unpredictable today's news consumer can be. While she follows KSL.com for breaking news throughout the day and "loves The Browser" on KSL radio, she switched to KTVX, the third-ranked ABC affiliate.
"We used to watch KSL religiously ... but now I can get my news in so many different ways I don't feel any loyalty to anyone," Thaeler said.
Making the 10 p.m. newscast relevant to viewers who have been "swimming in news all day" is another challenge local news stations must solve, said Deborah Potter, founder and executive director of the nonprofit journalism training and development initiative NewsLab and a coauthor of the Pew study.
She said what sets TV apart from other media is its ability to tell stories visually on the biggest of the three screens people use to consume their news. And she believes local TV news should play to that strength.
"They need to be taking advantage of what video can do in telling strong visual stories and not just stringing together soundbites."
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