What's the Most Popular Source for News? The Answer May Surprise You!

One hundred years ago, a newspaper was a precious commodity. There was no television, no radio, and no Internet where people could gather easy access to the world's most pressing events. You could almost say that with the advent of all three, we as a society have lost the importance of accessing news events.

However, what's been lost in scarcity has been replaced by gigantic dollar signs for the many television, newspaper, radio, and Internet companies that derive advertising and sponsorship money by featuring compelling news stories. Television has clearly become a more accessible content medium over the past 50 years, but content growth on the Internet is surging.

That's why I was so intrigued by Gallup's poll last week, which asked 2,048 adults to think about the various mediums for U.S. current event content distribution today and name how they most often keep up on current events. Before reading the answers, I would have ventured a guess that the Internet and television were in a dead heat, with newspapers and radio nearly tied with one another, but quite a way back. The results proved me wrong.

Here are the actual results broken down by Gallup as to where people turn for U.S. current events:

Where do Americans turn for news?










No opinion


Word of mouth




Media (non-specific)


None/Don't follow the news


Source: Gallup. 

I don't know about you, but I am utterly stunned by the disparity between television and the Internet. Understandably the Internet is only two decades old, so it's still in the process of maturing. In addition, age plays a significant role in how relevant current events are and what content medium is used. Young people aren't nearly as likely to keep up on current events as baby boomers are, and boomers are certainly more likely to get their current event content from TV rather than the Internet.

Who's winning on TV?
Understand that news is just one factor that drives viewership, but Fox and CNN are the two networks driving current-events viewership better than anyone else by a long shot.

With 7% of the 2,048 responses, Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) CNN is doing a phenomenal job in captivating audiences. With this type of viewership comes significant pricing power, which Time Warner can use to charge top dollar for ads on CNN. The same can be said of 21st Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOX  ) , the recent spinoff of News Corp., which took the top honors with 8% of all responses. Not surprisingly, both cable operators have seen their stocks soaring of late, which both can attribute to strong pricing power.

Who's losing?
Even though it has multiple revenue sources, I was a bit discouraged to discover that CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) came in dead last among TV respondents, garnering less than 0.5% of the vote. Despite the poor showing among respondents, CBS must be doing something right with its other mediums (i.e., CBS Sports Network), because its first-quarter revenue and EBITDA were both records.

The potential for the Internet
Although the Internet was cited as the current-events news destination in just over one in five respondents, it is by far the fastest-growing content medium on the planet. We need only to look at Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO  ) and its gigantic front page transformation to get a good sense of how important the Internet is becoming in terms of news dissemination. New CEO Marissa Mayer has made focusing on mobile and driving portal traffic on Yahoo!'s home page one of her top priorities. Initial results seem to show that the redesign is paying off.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in this respect is that the combination of Facebook (NASDAQ: FB  ) and Twitter garnered just 2% of the total votes. It's fairly obvious that both social-media networks have their roots in connecting friends and not necessarily on following the latest news stories, but even I suspected the figures for Facebook would be higher. Consider this an area where Facebook can look to beef up its future viewership.

Is there any hope left for print and radio?
Being honest with the trend that most content is moving to a digital platform and that TV prices are on a steady downslope, I say with some level of confidence that radio is in trouble. This isn't to say it'll be disappearing anytime soon, but the allure of radio broadcasting and its pricing power is no longer there in many aspects.

Source: Jon S., Flickr.

Newspapers may be on the decline as well, but the companies that run them still have a shot at transforming themselves through digital expansion and acquisitions. The New York Times, for instance, initiated a digital subscription plan in 2011 in an effort to expand its viewership, which had been in decline. Perhaps the most interesting move of late, though, came from Gannett, owner of USA Today, which announced the purchase of Belo for $1.5 billion to expand its broadcasting presence. We're seeing that TV still delivers the highest ad prices, which make purchasing mid-tier broadcasting companies a smart move for media giants such as Gannett.

Put bluntly, there's an all-out $2.2 trillion media war going on right now that pits cable companies such as Cox, Comcast, and Time Warner against technology giants such as Apple, Google, and Netflix. The Motley Fool's shocking video presentation reveals the secret Steve Jobs took to his grave and explains why the only real winners are these three lesser-known power players that film your favorite shows. Click here to watch today!

Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 8:19 PM, prginww wrote:

    I don't know if knocking off China with 3D is real.?

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 9:26 PM, prginww wrote:

    Take this same poll in less than 5 years and i believe the internet will be number 1. All TV news is losing their credibility very fast!

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 9:51 PM, prginww wrote:

    When I was in college, you saw newpaper stands everywhere on campus. Recently, when I visited my alma mater, I saw none. The internet is so bloated with schlock "stories" and advertising, blogs,etc. posing as actual information, that its difficult for any reasonable person to take internet reports seriously. The reporters are not competent and overtly slanted in their reporting. There is such competition for an audience for news reporting that all media (including television) increasingly don't adequately pursue due diligence to ensure the accuracy of the information disseminated, if any real desire to do so at all actually exists. The problem is that so many people who grew up in the digital age have been duped into buying into the sort of "yellow" journalism that is so pervasive as being legitimate. The percentage of people who rely on hokey internet reporting will, thus, increase exponentially, as those who grew up appreciating real journalism will decrease.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 10:36 PM, prginww wrote:

    Didn't ask anyone who counts, that's for sure.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 3:56 PM, prginww wrote:

    Nobody really wants to admit they watch CBS.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2013, at 4:22 AM, prginww wrote:

    I am certainly not from the USA or the american continent, in fact i live in Europe, the Netherlands, Amsterdam. I'm a parttime webmaster of a local website that talks about town politics and events. I don't write the articles, i just keep the website up and running. Every few weeks or so we have a meeting, those meetings always stun me on a simple thing.

    The part i am always stunned by is that people who creates the content and must get people to social events still see the TV and newspaper as the watchdogs of society, it's just that weird.

  • Report this Comment On July 17, 2013, at 2:06 PM, prginww wrote:

    Just a language note about "media."

    As we seem to be forgetting, "medium" is singular and "media" is plural. (Thank Latin for that.)

    So: Radio is still an influential medium.

    Radio and TV are important, if declining, media.

    It's not that hard.

    "Mediums" is hardly ever a correct word. Possible exception: I went shopping for a large-size sweater, but all they had was mediums.

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