MUNCIE, Ind.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–April 20, 2004

Morning television news programs are growing more popular with viewers, possibly signaling the end to the dominance of early evening newscasts, says a new study from Ball State University.

Researchers from Ball State’s Center for Media Design recently observed the media consumption habits of 101 people, discovering that people watched more news from 6 to 10 a.m. than any other part of the day.

“These findings suggest a major shift from just a few decades ago when the evening news programs drew the majority of viewers,” said Robert Papper, co-author of the Middletown Media Studies, a major examination of media use. “Because of the introduction of new technologies and cable television, consumers are taking control. They are telling us that ‘we’ll consume the news when we want and the shows or networks we want to watch.’

“If they want to watch the weather, they can tune into the Weather Channel at any time of the day,” he said. “Why should they wait for the local news if a cable channel has it when they want to watch?”

Papper, Michael Holmes, communication studies professor, and Mark Popovich, journalism professor, are investigating media consumption. Their findings were presented April 20 at the Radio Television News Directors Association and National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas, Nev.

As part of the Middletown Media Studies, researchers compared traditional phone surveys and diaries used to measure media usage with direct observations – or shadowing – of 101 people for a day to record media consumption.

The studies examined a wide range of media, including television, radio, telephone, Internet, books, newspapers and magazines to review consumer use of media.

The news consumption study found the early morning and early evening newscasts had an equal number of viewers, but early morning viewers spent more time watching news programming.

Midday was popular with 29 participants who logged 1,443 minutes. Late evening news programming from 7 to midnight registered highly with 45 respondents who consumed 2,455 minutes.

“I think early morning news is more popular because people have more time to watch it,” Papper said. “They get up, flip on the television and get ready for work. Because Americans are working and commuting more than ever, they are getting home later. They may not be home for the early news because of work or family obligations.”

Papper said the study may force local television news producers and media companies to address the shift in consumer consumption of news programming.

“Instead of having a 5 to 6 p.m. newscast, you might see a 7 p.m. news program,” he said. “Producers will have to create news shows when viewers want to watch them or risk losing those viewers.”

Other findings

The average television viewer was observed watching 94 minutes of news daily, nearly triple the amount recorded by phone surveys and diaries.

The study also found few differences in television viewing based on gender but extensive differences in media consumption based on age. Researchers discovered people 35 and older are watching television three times as much as people ages 18 to 34 and consuming nearly four times as much television news programming daily as their younger counterparts.

How the studies were done

The Middletown Media Studies were done in July and August 2003 with people living in “Middletown,” America – Muncie and Delaware County, Indiana. The name comes from landmark sociological studies done by Robert and Helen Lynd in the 1920s and ’30s that cast Muncie as the typical American town, or “Middletown.”

Along with shadowing 101 people, researchers collected 359 individual diaries and surveyed 401 individuals by phone.

About Ball State and the Center for Media Design

Ball State, located one hour northeast of Indianapolis in Muncie, Ind., is the third-largest public university in Indiana, with more than 18,300 students. Originally a private teacher training school when it opened in 1899, Ball State became a university in 1965.

The Center for Media Design, a research and development facility, focuses on the creation, testing and practical application of digital technologies for business, classroom, home and community. The center is part of Ball State’s iCommunication initiative, funded by a $20 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.