The media must become more creative

Audience research Only with an effective creativity boost can daily newspapers still stop the momentous loss in audience favorability shown by the latest results of the Univox study.

Audience research Only with an effective creativity boost can daily newspapers still stop the momentous loss in audience favorability shown by the latest results of the Univox study.
As if newspapers were not already suffering enough from the sharp downturn in advertising, the latest survey results from the Univox study now bring further bad news to the media houses: the reach of daily newspapers has fallen from 70 to 63 percent since 2000. The proportion of the population who profess to read newspapers every day has thus shrunk by a whole seven percent in just two years.
The Univox study confirms what the Mach Basic of the past two years had already anticipated: More and more Swiss people are leaving the daily newspaper to the left.
Every two years, the GfS research institute takes the pulse of media usage habits in Switzerland. The author of the survey is Heinz Bonfadelli, a professor of journalism in Zurich.
The more than 15-year development since the start of the study in 1988 shows a drastic change in the media menu of Mr. and Mrs. Swiss.
The development of usage habits for daily newspapers is particularly worrying. If you draw a straight line along the development of daily newspaper reading since 1988, which at that time still showed the proud reach of 83 percent, you get a steeply sloping line. If this downward trend were to continue at a comparable rate in the future, daily newspapers would drop to a value of less than 45 percent reach in the next 15 years.
Goodbye to Printland Switzerland?
However, things are unlikely to get quite that bad. Although the importance of reading newspapers is still dwindling, the ceiling is now coming into view, explains Bonfadelli. He expects the downward trend of newspapers to come to a halt at a reach of "between 50 and 60 percent" and to level off there.
The trend away from newspapers comes as no surprise to him, the author goes on to explain, pointing to the pioneering role played by the USA. "There, newspaper reading has already slipped just below the 50 percent mark." Even if it's not likely to go quite that far down here and by today's standards, he says, the effects will still be painful - with unpleasant consequences for the remaining newspaper audience. "In the future, the expensive production costs of newspapers will have to be distributed among fewer and fewer subscribers and newsstand buyers," the journalism professor points out.
Self-inflicted cancerThe fact that newspapers are not falling behind even more dramatically than they already have is thanks to free papers like 20 Minuten. "These have managed to better pick up young readers with new appealing concepts in the service and culture sections or with daily offers in the Internet area," Bonfadelli explains. In other words, at least part of the decline of daily newspapers is self-inflicted and due to the fact that these titles have not succeeded enough in keeping pace with audience needs.
But this is only one of several possible explanations. To some extent, the creeping decline in the audience for newspapers is also a "force of nature," i.e., a direct consequence of the ongoing trend toward electronic media. The fact is that more and more people are meeting their basic needs for up-to-date information on radio and television and - with a strong upward trend - also on the Internet. That's why we have to talk about a double trend today, says Bonfadelli: one in the direction of electronic media in general - and within these, an increased pull toward digital media such as the Internet.
In line with this interpretation, the current Univox study has already identified a significant decline in daily TV consumption - by a full 10 percentage points to a new 48 percent. However, the journalism researcher himself does not fully trust this figure and speaks of a "possible statistical outlier. Especially since the figures collected by SRG via Telecontrol for 2002 did not show such a kink, but actually showed a slight upward trend in TV use. "We will have to wait for the next wave of surveys in 2004. I assume that the figure for television will then be higher again," Bonfadelli adds.
Even if this were to occur, a fundamental problem of the
TV landscape already recognize today: It's getting more and more difficult,
The challenge is to develop compelling new formats that will remain a success with audiences for a longer period of time. "Innovation cycles are getting shorter and shorter, which is also an expression of TV production that is increasingly reaching its limits," says Bonfadelli. In recent years, he says, little new has been added to television - while at the same time the existing successes are getting old and slowly running out of steam. TV directors face difficult challenges. They have to get their companies to be more innovative and creative again.
SRG radio stations continue to declineBut radio director Walter Rüegg will also have to develop good ideas in the coming years. For SRG radio, the Univox study has established a downward trend since 1988 with virtually no respite - similar to that of daily newspapers. In contrast to the print medium, radio has merely seen a shift from DRS radio to the private providers. Overall, then, radio usage in Switzerland has not declined noticeably.
At least not so far. However, recent trends - for example, in the greater Zurich area - also point to a drop in listener numbers. The timing of these losses coincides with the streamlining of the music carpets at the affected radios, which German consultants had prescribed. Here, too, Bonfadelli detects a certain lack of creativity. "The problem of such consultants is, after all, that they mainly try to simply duplicate a few success formulas." Which, of course, is not enough. At the same time, Bonfadelli notes a certain fear of being "really creative and daring to do something new." However, this lack does not only apply to radio and television, but more or less to the media in general.
The classic and oldest of all cultural techniques, reading, is being marginalized among the general public: newspapers and books are being picked up less and less, while local radio stations and the Internet are gaining in popularity as sources of information.
The Univox study has been conducted since 1986 as a personal face-to-face study.
survey is carried out. The sample size is generally 700 people, distributed between German-speaking and French-speaking Switzerland. It should be noted that Univox measures the reach of the media surveyed, and thus the softest of all values collected in audience research. Therefore, the Univox results for radio and television, for example, are not directly comparable with the usage data collected electronically via Radiocontrol and Telecontrol. (dse)
Daniel Schifferle

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