Why the Internet Is About to Replace TV as the Most Important Source of News

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The headline conclusion of Pew's latest monster survey of the media landscape was the demise of TV news. "There are now signs that television news is increasingly vulnerable," the authors wrote, "as it may be losing its hold on the next generation of news consumers."

But the larger story is the rise of the Web, which has surpassed newspapers and radio to become the second most popular source of news for Americans, after TV. This is the graph from the report, in my opinion:

Screen Shot 2012-10-01 at 9.47.29 AM.png
So that's where we get our news now -- and the trajectory is clear. Internet is on a rocket ship up. TV is stable but in soft decline.

But where is the money going? TV channels get affiliate fees -- the hundreds of slivers of our cable bundles that are paid out to networks. Radio is supported by some donations and public financing. The rest mostly comes from advertising -- and the advertisers still prefer print and TV. As this Mary Meeker slide shows, we spend more time engaging with mobile devices than reading print, but print publications still get 25-times more ad money than mobile.

Screen Shot 2012-05-30 at 6.26.25 PM.png

I have a theory -- well, maybe more of a frame -- for the message these two graphs are sending. For younger people, the Internet is the new cable news. For advertisers, cable news is still cable news. Among 20-somethings surveyed by Pew, about a third said they watched TV yesterday. An equal share said they saw news headlines from Facebook. The rise of Facebook and social media doesn't mean the coinciding demise of TV, since screens can be additive. When I watched football on Sunday, for example, I'm also texting on my iPhone and reading the Times on my iPad. The iPad and iPhone didn't replace the TV. They supplemented it.

But ultimately, attention and money are zero sum, and advertising companies will shift money to meet the eyes wherever they go. And they're going online.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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