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Fact Sheet

August 7, 2017

Public Broadcasting Fact Sheet

    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.

    Audience

    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.)

    Weekly broadcast audience for top 20 NPR-affiliated radio stations

    Year Average weekly terrestrial listenership
    2015 8,724,100
    2016 10,212,600

    Pew Research Center

    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.)

    Monthly sessions on NPR apps

     App 2014 2015 2016
    NPR News: Android 2,913,814 3,613,494 5,005,041
    NPR News: iPhone 6,947,956 7,826,679 11,433,558
    NPR News: iPad 2,734,069 1,610,358 1,630,880
    NPR One: Android 460,263 1,326,320
    NPR One: iPhone 758,531 2,649,326

    Pew Research Center

    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.

    PBS NewsHour viewership

    Year Total average viewership
    2014 845,000
    2015 828,000
    2016 1,007,000

    Pew Research Center

    Economics

    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.

    Local public radio station revenue

    Year Total revenue
    2008 $650,429,045
    2009 $623,756,499
    2010 $674,444,481
    2011 $723,001,353
    2012 $728,234,171
    2013 $768,247,686
    2014 $805,807,713
    2015 $806,928,542

    Pew Research Center

    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.

    Individual giving and underwriting revenue for local public radio stations

    Year Individual giving Underwriting
    2008 $241,639,939 $183,476,019
    2009 $255,556,376 $162,932,273
    2010 $266,690,212 $165,470,819
    2011 $284,285,126 $163,568,544
    2012 $291,087,715 $176,686,958
    2013 $308,300,995 $178,494,500
    2014 $317,324,950 $188,708,281
    2015 $339,148,175 $196,937,610

    Pew Research Center

    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.

    Local public radio station membership

    Year Total membership
    2008 1,621,011
    2009 1,701,256
    2010 1,793,440
    2011 1,943,306
    2012 1,959,259
    2013 2,019,808
    2014 2,011,954
    2015 2,050,438

    Pew Research Center

    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.)

    PBS NewsHour nonpublic funding makeup

    Year Individuals Corporations Foundations
    2014 3% 41% 56%
    2015 6% 23% 71%
    2016 11% 19% 70%

    Pew Research Center

    Newsroom investment

    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.

    Local public radio station expenses

    Year Total program and production expenses
    2008 $313,469,783
    2009 $325,414,087
    2010 $334,788,198
    2011 $346,829,433
    2012 $360,618,848
    2013 $364,654,814
    2014 $381,694,542
    2015 $399,226,934

    Pew Research Center

    Find out more

    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.

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