If you read sites like AdWeek, you can easily find lists of the over-the-top options for people who wanted to watch the results trickle in on election night 2016; and yet more than 71 million people still chose to watch the election broadcast on TV, as reported by Variety.
There was a TV option for everyone: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Univision, Telemundo, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, PBS, Fox Business Network, CNBC, and TV One all carried coverage. In fact, says Time, it was the most-watched election in cable history. Even people without TV flocked to bars, restaurants, and private viewing parties to experience the election broadcast with some social—and/or alcoholic—lubrication (USA Today even offered tips on how best to do this).
This year’s election night was just one recent example of how important local media continues to be as a source for news. This follows up on the local media coverage of Hurricane Matthew in late September: As the Category 4 hurricane raged from Daytona Beach to North Carolina, citizens relied on local broadcasters for updates.
The election broadcast parties illustrate another reason local television remains a trusted and favorite source of information and entertainment: the campfire effect. Humans have a powerful need to gather together to share stories. In ancient times, we gathered around a communal fire; today, that fire is electronic—but still compelling. As Ericsson ConsumerLab said in its 2015 TV and Media Report, “Although the nature of live viewing is evolving, linear TV continues to hold a ‘campfire effect,’ drawing consumers to congregate together to watch together in a social setting.”
The report went on to say that the live aspect of live-event broadcasts is their biggest draw. “Consumers want to be able to access this content in the moment in order to get the best possible experience from it.” In fact, watching television can give us a sense of belonging even when we’re alone, according to Scientific American. And what could give you a better sense of being part of our nation than watching the election broadcast along with 70 million others?
And it’s not only politics and disasters that draw us together around this electronic campfire. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a tradition since 1924, draws more than 50 million viewers each year.
Local television allows advertisers to be part of that campfire gathering and benefit from the “halo effect,” which, as The Economist explains, is a tendency to like someone or something (even a product) based off a positive first impression. Because we tend to trust and rely on our local broadcast affiliates, we may be predisposed to extend that feeling of trust to the companies that advertise there.
These live events—whether elections, disaster coverage, or holiday parades—are opportunities for advertisers to connect with highly engaged audiences and show that they’re truly part of their communities.