MORE FACT SHEETS: STATE OF THE NEWS MEDIA
Hundreds of local and regional radio and television stations comprise the U.S. public media system. On the audio side, organizations such as NPR, American Public Media (APM) and Public Radio International (PRI) produce and distribute programming, reaching audiences through local stations as well as digital channels. Individual stations, such as New York’s WNYC and Chicago’s WBEZ, produce nationally syndicated original journalism as well. On the television side, PBS NewsHour produces an evening newscast that airs on local PBS stations around the country. The organization has a digital operation as well. On the whole, the news offerings of U.S. public broadcasters have been marked by relative financial stability and, in the past year, audience growth. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about public broadcasting below.
The top 20 NPR-affiliated public radio stations (by listenership) had on average a total weekly listenership of about 10 million in 2016, up from about 9 million in 2015. (This includes listeners for NPR programming as well as original or other syndicated content aired on these stations.)
When looking specifically at NPR programing across all stations that carry it, terrestrial broadcast listenership rose in 2016. (Traditional radio listening is “terrestrial,” i.e. coming from radio broadcast towers rather than satellites or the internet.) About 30 million average weekly listeners tuned in to any NPR programming during the year, up 14% from 2015, according to internal data provided by the organization. Programming from PRI, which distributes programs such as The World and The Takeaway, reached a terrestrial audience of about 9 million on average per week, up from about 8 million in 2015. Audience figures (generated by Nielsen) from American Public Media, which produces Marketplace, were not available for this fact sheet, but can be found in APM’s own year-end reports.
- National Public Radio (NPR)
- Public Radio International (PRI)
NPR slightly expanded its broadcasting reach in 2016 in terms of the number of member stations (stations either owned or operated by member organizations) and the number of station airing any NPR programming (which includes member stations). Member organizations — flagship educational and community organizations that operate at least one station — remained steady in number, at 264, down only one from the previous year.
- NPR stations
- NPR member organizations
NPR’s digital platforms continue to be an important part of its reach. Both the NPR News app, which offers livestreams from individual stations and digital content, and the newer NPR One app, which offers a stream of individual shows and podcasts, have shown steady growth across devices in the average number of total completed sessions each month. (A completed session is any instance in which a user starts and stops using the app.)
The audience for public television programming also grew over the past year: In 2016, the NewsHour program, which airs on PBS, attracted 1 million viewers on average, up 22% from the year before.
The financial picture for news outlets in public broadcasting appears to be strong both locally and nationally, even showing some improvement year over year.
At the national level, NPR increased its total operating revenue in 2016 to $213 million, up 9% from 2015 levels. PRI saw gains as well, rising 26% to about $22 million in total revenue for 2016. APM’s total revenue, on the other hand, went down 6% year over year, accounting for $126 million in 2016.
- NPR revenue
- PRI revenue
- APM revenue
At the local public radio level, an analysis of the public filings provided by the 125 largest news-oriented licensees (organizations that operate local public radio stations) shows overall steady revenue. Between 2014 and 2015 – the last year for which reliable data are available – total revenue for this group remained relatively flat at $807 million.
This revenue for local public radio comes from a range of streams, but individual giving (which includes member revenue and major gifts) and underwriting (from both businesses and foundations and other nonprofit organizations) are two key sources of funding. Among the 125 news-oriented licensees studied here, individual giving and underwriting combined accounted for $536 million in revenue in 2015, up 6% from 2014.
The total number of individual members – defined as anyone who has given money to one of the stations owned by these 125 licensees in each calendar year – edged up 2% in 2015 to 2.1 million.
On the television side, NewsHour derives its revenue from a variety of sources, including PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and a mix of “nonpublic” streams such as corporations, individual giving and foundations. While the details about public sources of revenue were unavailable for this analysis, NewsHour did provide information about its breakdown of nonpublic funding. In 2016, contributions from individuals increased from 6% to 11% of total nonpublic funding. (Information on whether the total amount of this funding rose or fell was also unavailable.)
Program and production expenses for the 125 news-oriented local public radio licensees increased between 2014 and 2015 to $399 million, a growth rate of 5%. While program and production expenses comprise only a portion of overall station expenses, an increase in these kinds of expenditures is an indicator that the stations are directing more dollars towards the creation of news content.
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This fact sheet was compiled by Michael Barthel, who is a research associate focusing on journalism research at Pew Research Center, Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research, and Jesse Holcomb, former associate director of research.
Read the methodology.
Find more in-depth explorations of public broadcasting by following the link below.