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New Data on `The State of TV News’

(Image credit: WISH-TV)

WASHINGTON—Pew Research Center, as part of its ongoing look at the `State of the News Media,’ has released new data showing welcome improvements in audiences and revenue for TV news as more Americans relied on their reporting during the pandemic crisis and political turmoil of 2020. 

Data cited by Pew shows that local TV news, cable news and broadcast news had increased viewing and revenues in 2020, producing in some cases record profits. 

But their future prognosis remains guarded as Pew is predicting that revenues for local news will be lower in 2024 than it was in 2020. 

Meanwhile, cord cutting has slowed the growth in carriage fees for cable news channels and broadcast networks are facing serious challenges in retaining the elevated viewing levels seen in the 2020 election year. 

Local TV News

As viewers huddled at home during the lockdowns, local TV news audiences for the ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates increased for both their evening newscasts and late night, according to Comscore data cited by Pew.

Evening and late night time slots both increased audiences by 4% and audiences for the midday news slot increased by 10% in 2020. But audiences for morning news time slots declined slightly by 4%. 

But the pandemic inspired spike in local news viewing didn’t entirely reverse years of declining audiences for local TV news. 

Evening news audiences for the affiliates was 3.73 million in 2020, up from 2019, but still down from 4.10 million in 2016, while audiences for late night news declined from 4.21 million in 2016 to 3.70 million in 2020 and morning news audiences were down from 2.89 million in 2016 to 2.41 million in 2020.

Record election year spending in 2020, pushed local TV over-the-air advertising revenue to $18.4 billion, up 8% increase over 2019, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of MEDIA Access Pro & BIA Advisory Services data while the digital ad spend increased by 6%  in 2020 to $1.4 billion.

The report also notes that “revenue for the 839 local TV stations defined as `news-producing stations’ (stations that have a news director and are viable, commercial and are English-language affiliates in the U.S.) was $15.3 billion, according to the BIA Advisory Services database.”

But Pew cited data predicting that local over the air TV revenue will decline in 2021 to $14.93 billion and over the air revenue will total about $15.48 in 2025.

Cable News

Of all the TV news segments, the data painted the brightest picture for cable news, which saw record revenue, profits and audiences. 

According to data from Kagan cited by Pew, Fox racked up over $1.80 billion in profits in 2020, up from $1.68 billion in 2019 and $779 million in 2010, while CNN earned a record $714.7 million in 2020, up from $676.8 million in 2019 and $395.3 million in 2010. Meanwhile, MSNBC hit $575.3 million in profits in 2020, up from $540.2 million in 2019 and $167.5 million in 2010 according to the Kagan data.  

Total revenue also hit record levels thanks to healthy growth in advertising. Total revenue for the three major cable news channels increased modestly in 2020 to $1.7 billion for CNN, $2.9 billion for Fox News and $1.1 billion for MSNBC, according to estimates from Kagan. 

But license fee revenue from pay operators continues to be hurt by cord cutting and “license (affiliate) fees, one of two main sources of revenue for the major cable channels, declined slightly in 2020 for all three – down roughly 1%-3% across all three,” Pew reported.

Audiences were also significantly up for the three big cable news networks. During prime time, the average audience increased by 61% for Fox News in 2020 to about 3.08 million while CNN’s audience grew by 72% to 1.80 million and MSNBC saw a 28% pop to 1.6 million viewers in 2020. 

Network TV News

Reversing the years of relatively stagnant audience levels between 2016 and 2018, all the three broadcast nightly newscasts saw significant growth in 2020 as they once again became appointment television. 

According to Comscore TV Essentials data cited by Pew, “ABC evening news viewership grew 16% to 7.6 million viewers in 2020, following an 11% increase in 2019. CBS evening news viewership grew 7% to about 5 million viewers in 2020, while NBC viewership rose 8% to 6.5 million,” the report noted. 

According to the Kantar data cited by Pew, ABC saw a 22% increase in ad revenue in 2020, while CBS and NBC each saw an 8% increase. 

Additional data and information can be found here.