Exclusive research by NOP shows a great depth of interest in news, served by a wide range of media. Almost everyone aged 15 or over (99 per cent) find at least one medium an important source of news, and two-thirds use three or more.
Television, however, is by far the most widely used news medium. Nearly nine out of ten people rate it as an important source of information; only national newspapers, used by two-thirds of the population, come close.
Six out of ten people use local newspapers, well ahead of national and local radio at 49 per cent and 43 per cent respectively. News magazines and the Internet have a much smaller audience, and are rated important for news by only one in ten British adults.
Most important source of news
When NOP asked people to name their most important source of news, television became even more prominent, taking just over half the votes. National newspapers are the only other significant main source, chosen by a quarter of people; local newspapers, local and national radio split the remainder between them, with the Internet and news magazines accounting for virtually no one.
Television has a fairly even appeal, being chosen by about the same proportion of people irrespective of age, sex, social class and region. Other media have more focused user profiles. National newspapers are the most important source of news for older people; 30 per cent of people aged 55 or over chose them, compared with one-fifth of younger people. Local newspapers carry far more sway in the North and Midlands, with twice as main users than in the South; and also have far more influence with downmarket readers.
The two types of radio, national and local, also appeal to very different audiences. Local radio is the main source of news for nearly twice as many women as men; national radio is far more male-oriented and its importance peaks among the professional and managerial sector of the population.
In line with dominance of news media, television has a high exposure, with 84 per cent of adults watching television news at least three times a week. BBC1 and ITV split the honours, both being watched at least three times a week by two-thirds of viewers. The other channels have smaller audiences for their news broadcasts. Channel 4 and Sky both cater for 15 per cent of viewers, Channel 5 attracts nine per cent, and CNN six per cent.
However, the similarity of BBC and ITV reach hides differences in audience composition. More women watch ITV news; 72 per cent, compared with 58 per cent of men. But the ratio is exactly reversed in the BBC audience.
ITV has the more downmarket audience, watched by more than seven out of ten C2DEs, but only half of AB adults. BBC1 has a more general appeal, but scores particularly highly among the ABs, attracting 82 per cent of middle and upper class viewers.
Both BBC and Channel 4 news have a stronger presence among older viewers; they make up 40 per cent of BBC1’s audience, and 51 per cent of Channel 5 viewers.
Favourite TV news programme
NOP also asked all regular viewers to name their favourite television news programme. In total, 45 per cent of regular viewers nominated a BBC programme, five per cent more than ITV. However, the top programme slot went to ITV. A quarter of viewers chose the ITV Evening News at 6.30pm, compared with a fifth who opted for BBC’s Six O’clock News. The only other programme named by a large number of viewers was the BBC’s Nine O’clock News, with 14 per cent. None of the other news programmes was chosen by more than ten per cent, and the new ITV Nightly News at 11pm made only eight per cent.
The three major programmes cater for substantially different audiences. Of the people who named ITV’s Evening News as their favourite bulletin, 72 per cent came from the C2DE category – manual working classes – and it has twice as many female as male fans. By contrast, the BBC Six O’clock News was more popular among men, echoing the overall male preference for the channel. It also has a far stronger following among the over-55s than the early evening ITV news.
BBC’s Nine O’clock News shows little bias in appeal in terms of age or sex, but draws its support mainly from the upmarket half of the population. Three out of ten of the upper middle class – the ABs – name it as their favourite news programme, and 73 per cent of the programme’s enthusiasts come from the ABC1s, although they make up only 45 per cent of the population.
Reasons for choosing favourite news programme
Interest in the Kosovan crisis has pushed up the amount of foreign news and 82 per cent of regular viewers said this was a very important factor in their choice of programme. Almost as many – 78 per cent – thought “in-depth coverage” very important and 73 per cent wanted balanced coverage.
But not every viewer is so intense. Eight out of ten choose their favourite programme because “it is on at the most convenient time”. Two-thirds of viewers enjoy “human interest stories as well as hard news”, and just over six out of ten prefer a programme that “doesn’t go on too long”. Simple inertia – “It is on the channel I usually watch” – strongly influences 62 per cent, and a similar proportion like to avoid “interruption by advertisements”.
The different reasons for choosing a favourite news programme seem to transcend simple demographic explanations, and show how effectively different programmes cater for particular priorities.
Channel 4’s audience places the highest emphasis on international coverage. The early evening news, especially on ITV, scores highly for human interest stories; viewers of the BBC One O’clock News and Channel 5 news are particularly attracted by the presenter. BBC lunchtime viewers are the least motivated by in-depth coverage, and also place less emphasis on “a balanced view”.
Perhaps most interesting is the power of news coverage to attract an audience. Far more ITV news viewers chose their favourite programme because it was on the channel they usually watch. In total, 77 per cent said this was a very important factor, rising to 81 per cent for the ITV Evening News at 6.30pm, compared with 46 per cent of people who chose BBC1’s Nine O’clock News.