Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » Did you know the nightly network news will die in 5 years?


I attended the Texas Association of Broadcasters annual banquet last week to honor Laura Prather for her work on the Texas Free Flow of Information Act.

The event sparked a discussion with a broadcaster about the impending demise of the nightly network news. Although it's been little reported, the nightly news has lost an average of 1 million viewers each year for the past 25 years, according to the Pew Project.

The networks have no end in sight to this free fall. The average age for nightly news viewers is 61.3, about a decade older than the typical newspaper reader. That's trouble because younger viewers aren't replacing older ones.

The Big Three networks still attract 20 million viewers with their nightly news. They also see these programs as important to maintaining their brand as they search for new ways to build their audience.

I write this with no glee over the death of TV news, but only to add some perspective to the conversation about the shifting media landscape. I also want to emphasize I'm focusing on network news; the future of local TV news is a different subject. Like many, I have trouble picturing a day without the nightly news so indelibly stamped on the national consciousness by Walter Cronkite.

However, in the age of on-demand video, fewer people see the need for appointment TV symbolized by the nightly news. You can turn on cable news or click on many Web sites, including, for national news whenever you want it.

What frustrates me is how little most Americans are aware of this trend. The network news anchors aren't reporting it, and newspapers are too self-absorbed by their own troubles to report on this important national news.

Newspapers clearly face their own challenges in the digital age, but Sunday newspapers still reach 115 million people, a little more than half of all U.S. adults. Surprised?

If you ask most people, they probably will have some idea about the economic challenges of newspapers. Most, though, likely have no idea of what's happening to the nightly network news.

I expect you also will be surprised to read this quote from a former "Nightline" executive producer: "The death of the evening news was predicted with considerable certainty 15 years ago. The three will live another five years. ..."

What will be the cost to society when this shared experience disappears? Although he's gone, Cronkite's legacy lives on for the remaining nightly news viewers looking to be reassured "that's the way it was."