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However, what's been lost in scarcity has been replaced by gigantic dollar signs for the many television, newspaper, radio, and Internet companies that derive advertising and sponsorship money by featuring compelling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.

Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

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