Younger demographics are flocking to local U.S. news station fueled by their hunger to make sense of current events, suggests data presented by media measurement giant Nielsen during the first day of NATPE Miami.

Spurred on by the events of the past year, including the pandemic, the Black Lives Matters movement and, most recently, the Capitol Hill riots, growth by age for news has sky-rocketed year-on-year by as much as 100% among 18 to 24 year olds.

Analysing the viewing behavior following the Capitol Hill riots on Jan. 6 as a recent example, Justin Laporte VP Audience Insights Nielsen, noted that young audience figures had surged by as much as 100% for local news, while national news broadcasters also enjoyed a 50% uptick among this demographic.

During the online presentation, given at NATPE’s “A New Day for Stations” panel, Catherine Herkovic, exec VP MD Local Television, Nielsen, added: “What we’ve seen during the crisis is that local news is the star: even younger audiences of 12-17 year olds are up by 30%.

“News is the bread and butter for local TV – so the fact younger audiences are watching more news now is an incredible opportunity,” she said.

The data vindicates moves by broadcasters who have launched their own GEN-Z and Millennial-orientated local news stations such as NBC’s over-the-air and digital brand LXTV.

Fellow panelist, Meredith McGinn, senior VP of NBCLX, added that since its launch in September 2019, the local news network has seen “double digit increases” among its 18-24 segment.

“The figures do not surprise us. We knew from our research that this segment of audience are consumers of news. They are hungry for information, they want to discover, they want depth, they want context – and some weren’t getting it from traditional sources,” she said.

The Nielsen data shows that, across the board, news has been the genre most people have turned to in the last year- peaking in April 2020 when news accounted for 45% of all TV viewing.

Herkovic added that viewers watched “two billion more minutes of news in November 2020 than they did in November 2019.”

Winners include free, over-the-air channels, with Nicolas Valls, general manager of WGEN Estrella 8, Miami, revealing to the panel that his daughter had recently invested in her own antenna. “My daughter wanted free TV, which is mind blowing!” he said.

Valls added that while the need for news was growing so also was the need for distraction and entertainment. “People are consuming more TV and the medium has become a resource for folks – particularly as they are at home where they have access to more information,” he said.

WGEN Estrella 8 – which launched in Miami two years ago – is responding to this trend by launching more channels locally, according to Valls, with plans to launch a second 24/7 news channel in the first quarter of this year with further entertainment channels on its digital feed also planned.