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Image Bite News Is Displacing Sound Bite News

- January 22, 2008

Almost two decades ago, Daniel Hallin established that candidate “sound bites” on network news programs had shrunk from more than 40 seconds during the 1960s to less than 10 seconds in the 1980s. (Click here for an overview of Hallin’s study.) Now it turns out that sound bites are not only shrinking in length, but vanishing in number. That’s not to say that candidates are becoming less visible than they used to be — just less audible.

Among the results of a recent study by Erik Bucy and Maria Elizabeth Grabe:

bq. From 1992 through 2004, the time that network news shows devoted to presidential campaign news declined from an average of about eight minutes per newscast to about five minutes.

bq. The length of the average sound bite in these newscasts continued its decline, falling another 15% or so, down to 7.7 seconds. (It can’t get much lower than that, so this decline will have to stop soon.)

bq. At the same time, the length of image bites, in which candidates are shown but not heard, increased by 12%.

In combination with some of their other findings, these results indicate, Bucy and Grabe conclude, that “viewers of the evening news are receiving more direct visual cues about candidates than verbal information.” For researchers, two implications stand out:

bq. It is even less appropriate than it may once have been to treat TV news coverage “as if it were something else entirely, namely, radio, discounting the unique contributions and persuasive influence that images have on political understanding and discounting the value that television has to views.”

bq. The growth of Image bites makes it all the more imperative to recognize that “viewers derive valuable information from televised display behavior — even when the visuals are shown without the accompanying sound.”

To view the abstract of the Bucy-Grabe article, click here.