Death knell for tickers? Please, say it's so

December 21, 2008 by Dave Haynes

The New York Times had a piece posted online today about the demise of the crawling ticker on its screens, offering a cleaner look with just a little headline strip across the bottom that refreshes rather than moves.

For cable news viewers who are suffering from information saturation, last week offered relief.

The crawl, as it is called, the unending stream of news capsules that have inched relentlessly across the bottom of cable news programs for seven years, disappeared from CNN last Monday.

CNN says it opted for a less cluttered look after years of bombarding viewers with a cacophony of video feeds, “breaking news” banners, logos and stock market quotes, all appearing simultaneously on the screen. But the removal of the crawl means more than a cleaner screen. It’s a tacit rejection of the information overload that has typified television news for much of this decade.

I have written several times about my near total absence of enthusiasm for news tickers on screens.

First of all, people don’t go to the grocery or corner store or pretty much anywhere to pick up the news.

Second, the things crawl on by the bottom of the screen and force people to lock on them (if somehow, they’re interested). That means they are not looking at the ads or whatever the network operator WANTS people to look at.

Reports the NYT:

Viewers may think that they can process it all, but they’re fooling themselves, said Earl K. Miller, a professor of neuroscience at M.I.T. “A lot of times, when you think you’re multi-tasking, you’re just switching your attention between one or two or three things,” he said. As a result, viewers process less of each. Perhaps the bite-size style of online news consumption doesn’t translate to TV, after all.

Critics have had a hunch about that ever since the crawls crept onto the screen. In October 2001, The Austin American-Statesman opined: “It’s the television-watching equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy. And wiggling your toes. And flapping your elbows.” 

Third, if you must have news on the screen, go full screen or at least follow CNN’s lead and do a flipper. That’s an all encompassing sentence that stays on the screen until another one comes along. Even with that, screen network operators have to stop and think if the format allows their mobile audience to see it. Will they have to stop and squint?

I hope CNN leads the way on this and other networks give up on the dreaded tickers. And I will, eventually, spend less time talking clients out of them.

Leave a comment