State of the News Media 2015
Local TV News: Fact Sheet
Last updated April 2015
Local television stations enjoyed a year of higher revenue and slightly higher viewership in 2014. Growth in advertising revenue largely resulted from increased political advertising spending. Viewership increased in two of the three key time slots, following gains from the previous year.
At local network affiliate television stations, viewership in 2014 increased slightly in morning and early evening time slots – 2% and 3% respectively compared with 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. Late night newscasts lost 1% of their audience. The numbers were much better for nontraditional dayparts. Very early morning news remained the biggest growth area, with 4:30 a.m. newscasts seeing a 6% boost from the year before. Stations also continued to experiment with news at 4 a.m., starting and stopping newscasts at that time throughout the four sweeps months. In February, for example, 22 ABC affiliates aired news at 4 a.m., but only four were doing so in November. News at midday posted 8% growth, while local news at 7 p.m. Eastern time or equivalent (after the network news or early evening local news) was up more than 10%.
The 2014 picture was more mixed for local Fox affiliates. Morning newscasts gained 5% more audience on average in 2014, after a 9% increase in 2013. Since 2010, Fox morning newscasts have increased their average viewers 13%. But the hourlong newscasts aired at 10 p.m. Eastern time or the equivalent lost 4% of their audience in 2014, for a total loss of 17% since 2010.
Local TV stations continued to fare well economically. Much of this is due to political advertising spending, which after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling seems to guarantee windfalls to local TV stations in even-numbered years. In 2014 total on-air ad revenue for local stations reached $20 billion, according to consulting firm BIA/Kelsey, up 7% from the year before and down 3% compared with 2012, the last election year.
News-producing stations account for the disproportionate amount of the on-air ad revenue. While 68% of all TV stations produce their own news (812 out of 1186 viable, commercial and English-language stations), they accounted for 84% of the on-air revenue in 2013, the most recent year for which station-level data are available ($15 billion of the total $18 billion).
Online revenue still accounts for a tiny portion of the total – BIA/Kelsey estimates just 4% in 2014 ($800 million). That percentage is not projected to grow much over the next five years.
To get a sense of how much of the ad revenue at these news-producing stations goes to news programming, we consulted another dataset. Survey responses from news directors across the country indicate that half of the revenue news-producing stations make comes from local news (RTDNA surveys).
Other sources of revenue for the local TV industry have been growing. Retransmission payments have been increasing rapidly in the past decade, according to data from SNL Kagan. In 2014, retransmission revenue were estimated to reach almost $5 billion, and SNL Kagan projects that this figure will nearly double by 2020.
The average amount of weekday local TV news programming declined by 6 minutes in 2013 to 5 hours and 18 minutes, following a drop of another 6 minutes from the year before, according to RTDNA.
Staffing levels in the local TV sector were down slightly in 2013, the last year data are available, according to an annual Hofstra University survey. The survey identified 27,300 full-time jobs in local television news – down about 400 jobs from 2012. Local TV newsroom salaries rose 2% in 2013.
The rush by media companies to acquire local TV stations continued in 2014, but at a slower pace. In 2014, 171 stations changed hands, at cost of about $5 billion, according to BIA/Kelsey. The year before, local TV station sales exploded, when nearly 300 TV stations were sold, up 193% from 2012, reaching a total value of $ 9.7 billion. (BIA/Kelsey has updated the 2013 numbers, bringing the total value to $9.7 billion from $8.8 billion in January 2014, when Pew Research Center last updated the data.)