MORE FACT SHEETS: STATE OF THE NEWS MEDIA
Local television news programming has shed audience over the past decade, including this past year in most timeslots studied. Even with these viewership losses, local TV news still garners more viewers on average than cable and network news programs. However, for election news in particular – a big part of last year’s news agenda – cable news brands were named as the main news source by a greater portion of voters than local TV news programming. Financially, local TV companies have generated increasing revenue, though in a cyclical pattern tied to election years. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about local TV news below.
In 2016, viewership for network local affiliate news stations (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) declined in key time slots – morning, early evening and late night, according to Pew Research Center analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. Since 2007, the average audience for late night newscasts has declined 31%, while morning audience declined 12% and early evening audience fell 19%. Local TV noon and 7 p.m. news viewership also declined.
- Key time slots
- 7 p.m.
Local TV station revenue typically follows a cyclical pattern: increasing in election years and decreasing in non-election years. In 2016, an election year, local TV over-the-air advertising revenue totaled $20.6 billion, an 11% increase over 2015, according to BIA/Kelsey data. By comparison with other election years, local TV advertising revenue in 2014 was $20 billion and in 2012, it was $20.3 billion.
Total digital advertising revenue for local TV stations increased 10% in 2016 (reaching a total of about $1 billion). Digital advertising revenue accounts for a small portion of total ad revenue.
Advertising revenue for 832 local TV stations defined as “news-producing stations” (i.e. stations that have a news director and are viable, commercial and English-language affiliates) was estimated at $17.3 billion, which is 84% of the total $20.6 billion revenue for the industry overall, according to BIA/Kelsey data.
Retransmission fees – the fees paid by cable and satellite systems to carry local channels – have been increasing rapidly in the past decade, according to estimates from Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence. In 2016, retransmission revenue was estimated to reach nearly $8 billion, up from $6.4 million in 2015. And Kagan projects that this figure will reach $12.8 billion by 2023.
Seven major publicly held local TV station companies – Tribune, Nexstar, Sinclair, Tegna, Gray, Media General and Scripps – report political advertising revenues separately from other types of revenues in their SEC filings. In 2016, the seven companies reported a total of $843 million in political advertising revenue, substantially more than the $696 million in 2014 and $574 million in 2012.
Staff salaries in the local TV sector were up for most newsroom positions in 2015, the last year data are available for local TV staff salaries, according to the annual RTDNA/Hofstra University survey. The survey finds that the median salary for a news director position at local TV newsrooms rose 7% in 2015, while the median news reporter salary rose 11%.
The average amount of weekday local TV news programming increased somewhat in 2016, according to the RTDNA/Hofstra University survey. Local TV stations dedicated an average of 5.7 hours to news programming per weekday in 2016 – up from 5.5 in 2015.
In 2016, 98 local TV stations changed hands at a cost of about $5 billion, as annually reported by BIA/Kelsey. This is up from $670 million across 86 stations that experienced changes in ownership in 2015.
Find out more
This fact sheet was compiled by Katerina Eva Matsa, who is a senior researcher focusing on journalism research at Pew Research Center.
Read the methodology.
Find more in-depth explorations of local TV news by following the links below.
Buying spree brings more local TV stations to fewer big companies May 11, 2017
Trump, Clinton Voters Divided in Their Main Source for Election News Jan. 18, 2017
Civic Engagement Strongly Tied to Local News Habits Nov. 3, 2016
The Modern News Consumer July 7, 2016