Consumers concerned about trust in news and ads especially on social media

Boston, MA – More than half of U.S. consumers have increased their weekly news consumption and more than half of young consumers have become more willing to pay for high-quality news since COVID-19 hit, according to new data from global strategy consulting firm Altman Solon. But eroding trust in news and advertising content across nearly all mediums could hurt the U.S. news sector’s potential to rebound after years of shrinking ratings. Despite the falling trust in social media news in particular, a surprising number of consumers are accessing daily news through Facebook.

Altman Solon’s 2020 Sports & News Survey, which gauged the news consumption habits of 14,000 respondents in 10 countries across North America, Europe, and Latin America, found that nearly one-third of Americans (30%) are willing to pay for well-researched and reliable news after the COVID-19 pandemic. Younger news viewers (53% of 18-24-year-olds) were found to be much more interested in paying for news than older adults (15% of 55+). Due to this “COVID effect,” 82% of Americans expect to continue to pay for news after pandemic restrictions are lifted.

This increased willingness to pay comes as news consumption has skyrocketed since COVID-19: 54% of U.S. respondents say they are watching more news and 34% are watching three or more additional hours of news per week.

“With a global pandemic, historic election, and economic uncertainty, Americans have become even more avid news consumers,” said Altman Solon Partner Jonathan Hurd, who oversaw the survey. “It seems counter-intuitive to add a paywall during periods of high unemployment, but with news value peaking and consumers warming to paying for digital news, some established media brands like Forbes are adopting paywalls for the first time during COVID-19.”

Shaky viewer trust for news content and ads

The survey shows that U.S. consumers have lost some degree of trust in most news sources. While trust in television news has increased slightly since the pandemic began, trust in radio, free online newspapers, print newspapers, news websites, and podcasts is down slightly between one and three percent. However, trust in news on social media has plummeted 12% since the start of COVID-19.

U.S. consumers’ outlook on advertising is more negative, with trust down across every news medium tested. When asked their trust level for ads associated with news content (before COVID-19), Americans had a net negative perception. Ads on social media (-39%) were viewed least trustworthy, followed by out-of-home/billboards (-23%), podcasts (-22%), online news (-14%), and radio (-13%) ads. Print and TV ads were the only sources with a trust rating better than negative 10 percent.

Younger U.S. viewers value newsroom diversity

With high-profile protests for social and racial justice occurring throughout the United States over the past year, the survey reveals that one in four Americans (27%) are more likely to subscribe to news with more racial diversity in its programing (coverage and on-air reporters) than those who are less likely to subscribe because of it (21%). The likelihood grows significantly for 13-17-year-olds (45% more likely to subscribe vs. 14% less likely), 18-24-year-olds (46% vs. 16%), and 25-34-year-olds (42% vs 13%). The survey data shows similar overall support for diversity in gender (26%) and sexual orientation (22%) in news programming.

TV’s tops but social media rising as news source

TV is the go-to source daily new source for Americans, but social media aggregators like Facebook and Google News are also popular among consumers:

  • Broadcast networks are the top source that U.S. consumers rely on daily for news, with ABC (viewed daily by 26%), NBC (20%), and CBS (20%) leading the rankings.
  • Cable TV news enjoyed a record-breaking year for ratings, and the survey data shows strong daily reliance, with CNN and Fox tied at 17%.
  • Social Media – The survey shows that consumers are using Facebook (15%) and Google News (11%) to access news.
  • Newspapers – While subscriptions for the New York Times and the Washington Post have grown significantly in recent years, the national newspapers trail the daily reliance numbers of TV and social media.

“There have been so many disruptions – financial, technological, political, and social – that it seems like we are in the Wild West for news,” said Hurd. “But the survey shows how news providers, with some bold decision-making on payment models and a deeper understanding of what modern audiences want, can thrive in the current climate and prepare for what’s next.” Altman Solon conducted the 2020 Global Sports & News Survey in August-September with more than 14,000 respondents across 10 countries. Altman Solon tapped into its expertise across Europe and the Americas following this summer’s merger of U.S.-based Altman Vilandrie & Company and Europe-based Solon Consulting to form the world’s largest Telecommunications, Media, and Technology consulting firm. For the complete public survey findings, please click here.