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Local TV Stations Produced More News Than Ever in 2020, RTDNA Finds

Local TV news
(Image credit: Scripps)

WASHINGTON—Local TV news had its biggest year ever, as RTDNA reported a record number of local TV stations aired local news in 2020. According to a survey, 1,116 TV stations shared local news with its viewers.

The data comes from a survey conducted by RTDNA and the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

The 1,116 TV stations airing local news content is up 18 from the previous all-time high, which was set in 2019. Of the 1,100+ stations, 710 produced their own news content, up five from 2019; 406 stations, meanwhile, aired local news, up 13.

(Image credit: RTDNA)

Stations also set a record for hours of local news aired. Stations saw an increase in weekday news that, even with a slight decrease in weekend news, resulted in an overall net gain in average hours of local TV news. A little more than a third (34.5%) of TV stations reported they increased the amount of news they aired in 2020, up 7.3 percentage points from 2019.

Increases in the amount of news produced occurred in all market sizes. All staffs of 21 or more also increased their amount of news in minutes. Among the network affiliates, CBS stations were the most likely to increase their output, while Fox stations actually did not see an overall increase in news output.

All of this came in a year where budgets were mostly cutback because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Only 16.3% of stations reported a budget increase in 2020, compared to 36.8% in 2019. Inversely, 29.3% of stations saw budget cuts, up from 2019’s 9.1%. Stations in the top 50 markets were most affected by budget cuts.

Related, fewer news departments were profitable in 2020, according to news directors, with more reporting losses. However, the percentage of station revenue generated by the news department remained steady.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. Pew Research Center reported that despite losses in ad revenues, gains in retransmission revenue helped lead to double-digit year-over-year revenue increases in the second half of 2020, with several groups setting record revenues.

The impact of Covid went beyond the financials, though. More than 90% of TV news directors said their newsrooms were still being significantly impacted by the pandemic at the end of 2020. More than 80% say at least some staff remain remote, which in some cases may become permanent. For 30%, there were budget cuts and reduced staff sizes, particular among stations in the Northeast. Seven of 10 news directors expect long or permanent changes in their workflow.

For more information, view RTDNA’s full report.