If It Bleeds It Leads – Why Is It That News Costs More Than TV shows?
The first big theme this week is called, “If it bleeds it leads – Why is it that news costs more than TV shows?” I picked that title to explain the big concept we’ve seen over the last few months in news organizations around the world.
Major cable news networks, business publications and newspapers have seen a steep decline in traffic. From January to February, most of them have seen 20-30% drops: The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, CNN, The New York Times. Why did this happen, and what is the insight our readers and listeners need to think about?
First, as someone once said in the newspaper industry, “if it bleeds, it leads.” “If it Bleeds, It Leads,” means that the most traumatic story would lead the newscast (even in cases where it is not the most relevant to viewers). If it’s bad news, it will get attention. Newspaper traffic, news traffic and cable news traffic has been up over the last few years because a tsunami of bad news has been recycled—sometimes exaggerated—over the news feed.
What does this mean?
A Netflix subscription costs between $7-15. It’s a pretty low number. A Financial Times subscription is between $45-65 a month. A Wall Street Journal subscription per month—assuming there’s no special promotion, just a standard price—will cost you more than Netflix. A New York Times subscription costs more than Netflix, again, assuming there’s no promotion.
Why is it that news—which is usually dominated by bad news—costs more than TV shows and movies that generally make you feel better? Why is it that we’re willing to pay a premium for things that are bad news, but we’re not willing to pay a premium for things that make us feel better?
Let’s think about this. We pay for bad news because we think it will lead to some kind of loss for us, whether it’s financial, an asset, institutional or emotional. In effect, we’re not paying for bad news. We see bad news as a lead indicator for some loss or pain we’re going to suffer.
What does this mean? Whenever you’re thinking about how to motivate someone, about what will receive the greatest attention, about convincing someone to do something, one thing you have to consider is, “Do I convince them by showing them what they will lose? Or do I convince them by showing them what they will gain?” And if they have room to lose something, it’s clear that in most cases—not all cases—people will pay a premium if you allow them to avoid a loss. Now, there are several cases where this is not true. If someone has already incurred the loss and they can’t incur more—and they know they cannot incur more—then it makes sense to show them how much better things can be.
In other cases, of all those media companies I mentioned, one has not seen a drop in traffic for the US month on month: the Financial Times. This is because the Financial Times has deliberately staked out a position in the middle ground. It is not seeking stories using “If it bleeds, it leads” mindset. It said, “We’re not going to get involved in what’s emotionally draining on the left of politics and what’s emotionally draining on the right of politics. We’re going to report the news as it is.” The Financial Times tends to draw in people who are not really interested in the exaggerated versions of what’s happening in politics.
That also means that when people see a change in the news—when there’s no longer bad news in the Financial Times feed because the Financial Times was never hyping it up anyway—there’s no drop in traffic. They’re keeping the same readership because it’s staying the way it’s always been. It has attracted people, in other words, who didn’t want these huge emotional cycles in the news. When the emotional cycles disappeared, the audience stayed with them.
But the deep insight is that when you want to motivate people to do things, you have to decide whether you want to show them the loss they could incur or the great future life they could have many years down the line.
This is an excerpt from Monday Morning 8 a.m. newsletter, issue #21. Many of you have found Monday Morning 8 a.m. so useful that you’ve asked us to release a book version of these newsletters. We’ve obliged and released a Kindle version, which you can find on Amazon under “Strategy Insights.” It contains the insights from previous Monday Morning 8 a.m. issues, edited into a bite-sized format that’s very easy to use. And you can learn about other FIRMSconsulting books here.
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