There have never been more ways for consumers to get their news. From a daily newspaper delivered to your doorstep and 4K video on your television to a short text message that can be read at a glance, news today comes in as many shapes and sizes as the people consuming it.
While TikTok may be most well known for viral challenges and quirky characters, this short-form video app also showed the world just how hungry people are for online video content — an assumption that many media companies believe extends to news coverage. This isn’t surprising as U.S. consumers have traditionally preferred TV news to newspapers. Pew Research found that 47% of Americans prefer watching the news rather than reading or listening to it — making it reasonable to assume they prefer to get their online news in a video format as well. However, that may not be the case.
The reality of online news preferences
The media has been under pressure for more than a decade to adapt and innovate, creating an ever-increasing number of channels to deliver news to evolving audiences. From early experiments like Vox’s card stacks to apps designed to aggregate personalized news for individual users, innovative media companies have put untold time and effort into reaching news consumers on their terms. As it turns out, however, consumers’ needs may be simpler than we previously assumed. Back in 2016, Nieman Lab reported a few enlightening findings from a Reuters study:
Interest in video news increased for breaking news — but at other times, that pattern did not hold. In fact, site users typically spent “only around 2.5 percent of average visit time” on pages that included videos, and “97.5 percent of time is still spent with text.” As for the videos they actually engaged with, users were less interested in hard news than they were in animal videos.
Now, a new version of that Reuters study is out and text still seems to be king.
Why people still prefer to read their news
Despite all the legitimate hype around how much people engage with video online, research shows that does not necessarily apply to news. In fact, Reuters found “that all age groups, on average, say they still prefer to read news online rather than watch it – and we have seen little change in underlying preferences since we last asked the question in 2019. Younger audiences, however, are significantly more likely to say they watch the news, perhaps because they are more exposed to networks like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.”
Consumption rates vary across countries and are often dependent on historical context. For instance, Reuters says, “markets with historic patterns of high newspaper consumption such as Finland and Japan near the top of the list in terms of reading preference, with low-newspaper circulation countries like Thailand and Brazil near the bottom.”
But that isn’t the whole story. “Higher use of social media in general in Latin America (Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile) as well as in parts of Asia-Pacific (Philippines and Taiwan) may be encouraging more video news use in these markets,” the report says. High YouTube consumption rates also correlate to how people prefer to get their news.
With all of that said, respondents clearly prefer text for a variety of reasons:
- Reading online is quicker (50%) or gives readers more control (34%)
- 35% say they are put off by pre-roll ads that sometimes appear ahead of videos.
- 17% say videos don’t add to anything that would otherwise be in a text story
- 13% struggle with technical issues when trying to watch videos
- 8% worry about cost or data charges – much higher in African countries such as Kenya (35%) and Nigeria (35%)
Text vs. video — a complementary approach
When it comes to text vs. video, it does not have to be an either/or situation — they can work together to provide better news coverage and reach a wider range of audiences.
- Start by providing a transcript (or thorough description) of any videos, allowing users to skim the text rather than sit and watch a whole video.
- Reconsider the ad strategy. If people are dropping off before they get through a pre-roll ad, a mid-roll ad or banner ad may be a better solution.
- Don’t create videos for the sake of creating videos. Just like with data visualizations, video should add something to a story. Using video to add new context or nuance to an article can make it more compelling and worth viewers’ time.
- Have the right technology in place. Part of the reason video consumption rates are high on social media platforms is that the video actually works. One of the most important aspects of a successful video strategy is that the technology behind it is simple, dependable, and doesn’t frustrate viewers.
- Keep your audience and their connections in mind. If unlimited data is unheard of in a coverage area, users are not likely to waste precious data on watching a video when they can just read the article. So before you put valuable time and money into video content, do your audience research.
Armed with the right tools and a well-researched strategy, media outlets can deploy video strategically — and only when it makes sense — while continuing to deliver well-written, informative content, secure in the knowledge that audiences prefer text.