The News Quiz: Applying Gaming to Newscast Engagement

We learned audiences enjoy participating in the news

If you want to see how immersive media can be, just watch someone who’s playing a video game. The outside world fades away. The gamer is often oblivious to the passage of time. Hours pass like minutes. As broadcasters, we’ve been forced to accept that TV is often only on in the background, relegated to the ‘second screen.’ Wouldn’t it be nice to regain the kind of immersed attention achieved in interactive games?

At Cronkite News, we wondered how we might apply some of the principles of gaming in service of the goals of journalism to inform our audience on issues that matter. That’s what led us to experiment with the News Quiz. We decided to implement the quiz as part of a special report we produced called “Recycling Reductions” as an in-depth look at how changes in the politics and economics of recycling since 2017 have caused significant cost increases and service reductions for recycling programs in our broadcast area in Arizona.

WHAT WE DID: THE NEWS QUIZ

We wanted to test the idea that audiences on-air and online would stay longer and be more engaged with our coverage if we gave them the chance to participate via a live news quiz testing their knowledge of recycling while we reported on the problem. For easy scoring, we opted to go with 10 questions incorporated during the first 15 minutes of our newscast dedicated to recycling coverage. Reporters from our Sustainability team researched possible quiz questions, and we ultimately chose five practical ‘recycle or not’ questions and five broader questions tied to the larger issue of recycling.

To enable live quiz voting, we partnered with MegaphoneTV and used the same technology stack that powered our earlier ‘Choose Your News’ experiment (which we profiled on Cronkite News Lab, and was recognized at the Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards for Best College Newscast.)

The multi-platforrm News Quiz show was broadcast live on KAET Arizona PBS at 5 p.m. and streamed live on our Cronkite News Facebook page, giving us two ways to reach audiences and two ways to measure engagement. Spoiler alert: This show dramatically overperformed our average for audience engagement (details in results below.)

HOW IT WORKED

Our anchors introduced and explained the News Quiz, including a mobile-friendly URL shortcut at the top of the program. Our content plan, what we’ve come to call a “Super Block” here at Cronkite News (as described in this Cronkite News Lab feature), included four story elements:

  • An explainer on what’s behind the current crisis in recycling
  • A deep dive into one community where that crisis in in full effect
  • A demonstration of the do’s and don’ts of recycling to show the problem of contamination
  • A forward-looking profile of a scientist pioneering a solution to the plastics problem in recycling

Our show producer sequenced the ten questions in our quiz to pair them with relevant content. Half the questions were general knowledge, the other half were specific to what items can be recycled. For example, during our introductory explainer we tested whether our audience realized that China until recently took 70% of our state’s recycling.

During the segment where we demonstrated what can and can’t be recycled in Phoenix, our quiz questions focused on other recycling “Do’s & Don’ts.” Using MegaphoneTV’s voting technology, this voting functioned as a second stream of complementary content to the broadcast, with the question on-screen for an intentionally limited amount of time to drive immersion.

After each question expired, the on-screen display updated to show both the correct answer and how the audience overall voted on the question. As a content team, we also came up with a plan for an end-of-program scorecard, with four grades based on how participants performed on the quiz, from 8-10 for Recycling Hero to 0-3 for Recycling Novice (confession: In timing out the live show in real-time, we sadly had to drop this important element, a lesson for next time.)

RESULTS AND REFLECTIONS

Any innovation project needs to begin with a premise — What is the hypothesis or idea we’re trying to test? — and methods of measuring success. Our hope was that the News Quiz would more deeply engage our audience, and we used three measures to assess: Nielsen TV ratings, Facebook Live video engagement analytics, and Megaphone’s voting insights. As any News Director knows, Nielsen overnights are nearly impossible to rely on as a decider of one-time success. For our student newscast, that’s even more true due to the small sample size of our audience. For this broadcast our overnight rating was slightly below our average but well within the range of normal.

Our Facebook video insights, by contrast, were definitive: This program generated 12 times the engagement of our typical video! The engagement over-indexed across every metric, from Watch Time (4x) to Comments (16x) to Engagement to Shares (8x) to Reach/Distribution (11x) and Starts (3x). Insights from MegaphoneTV confirmed this with hundreds of votes cast by phone during the broadcast.

We also wound up with another data source, an unofficial focus group. Our broadcast production booth normally has several of the faculty advisors watching the students’ efforts from behind the scenes. For this live broadcast, our booth was standing room only. I observed that every single person not directly tied to producing the show was not only participating in the voting, but these folks were immersed! There were exclamations as answers were revealed, followed by eager anticipation for the next question. At the end, there was immediate comparing and bragging after final results, which each participant receives on their own phone. In general, I observed a level of engagement wildly more immersive than the passive, barely focused viewing that we all know is often associated with a traditional newscast. My favorite ‘metric’: One student’s mom texted her while the show was still live to brag about her score on the News Quiz.

Debriefs are crucial to learning from experiments. In our post-show review, we identified many learnings and ways we could improve and add to this first experiment. A few key lessons included:

  • Leave questions on-screen longer (20 seconds minimum, versus our choice of 13-15 seconds) to insure viewers can ‘process’ the question and vote
  • Script more precisely the timing of where/when questions are inserted, to insure the questions complement rather than compete with the content
  • The News Quiz format is optimized for the live online or on-air viewer; watching the recording of the show later, on demand (e.g. the YouTube link below) may actually be mildly frustrating to those forced to passively view others’ voting, while being unable to participate themselves. Stations might pair the VOD with an online version of the quiz for those who watch on demand later.
  • All voting participants did receive their personal score by phone via Megaphone, but we’d add a ranked final scoreboard on-air of all participants, to enhance the gamification
  • We did not aggressively promote this first News Quiz (who knew if it would even work!) Now that we have built the capability and workflow, we’d double-down on a multiplatform strategy to get the word out, which could lead to a lift in broadcast ratings similar to the real-time lift we saw in digital streaming engagement

We were thrilled with all these valuable process learnings, and with the overall outcome. The data showed that adding a purposeful gaming element made traditional live linear news coverage much more engaging for the audience.

Our News Quiz was the result of the collaboration of a team of reporters, producers and studio production that featured storytellers Jordan Evans, Jordan Elder and Melanie Porter, led by Sadie Babits, Director of the Sustainability team at the Cronkite News; and producer Jordan Taylor, led by Director of Producers Christy Bricks, and the studio crew led by Director Jim Jacoby.

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