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Fact Sheet

June 6, 2018

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, moderate 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 11 million in 2017, up from about 10 million in 2016. (This includes listeners of 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
    2017 11,210,500

    Pew Research Center

    When looking specifically at NPR programming across all stations that carry it, terrestrial broadcast listenership remained about the same between 2016 and 2017. (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, about the same as in 2016, 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, the same as in 2016. Audience figures from American Public Media, which produces Marketplace, increased to about 20.5 million average weekly listeners in 2017, up from approximately 19.1 million in 2016.

    Weekly broadcast audience of NPR, PRI and APM

    • National Public Radio
      (NPR)
    • Public Radio International
      (PRI)
    • American Public Media
      (APM)

    NPR’s broadcasting reach remained stable between 2016 and 2017 in terms of both the number of member stations (stations either owned or operated by member organizations) and the number of stations airing any NPR programming (which includes member stations). The number of member organizations — flagship educational and community organizations that operate at least one station — stood at 260, down four from the previous year.

    Broadcasting reach of NPR

    • NPR stations
    • NPR member organizations

    For both PRI and APM, the number of stations airing their programming remained more-or-less stable between 2016 and 2017.

    Broadcasting reach of PRI and APM

    • PRI stations
    • APM stations

    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 NPR One app, which offers a stream of individual shows and podcasts, showed steady growth across most devices in the average number of total completed sessions each month in 2017. (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 2017
    NPR News: Android 2,913,814 3,613,494 5,005,041 8,242,722
    NPR News: iPhone 6,947,956 7,826,679 11,433,558 14,502,478
    NPR News: iPad 2,734,069 1,610,358 1,630,880 1,488,862
    NPR One: Android 460,263 1,326,320 2,396,494
    NPR One: iPhone 758,531 2,649,326 4,462,950

    Pew Research Center

    The audience for public television programming also grew over the past year: In 2017, the NewsHour program, which airs on PBS, attracted 1.2 million viewers on average, up 17% from the year before.

    PBS NewsHour viewership

    Year Total average viewership
    2016 1,007,000
    2017 1,178,000

    Pew Research Center

    Economics

    The financial picture for news outlets in public broadcasting appears to be strong both locally and nationally.

    At the national level, NPR increased its total operating revenue in 2017 to $233 million, up 9% from 2016 levels. APM saw gains as well, rising 33% to about $168 million in total revenue for 2017. PRI’s total revenue, on the other hand, went down 17% year over year, amounting to $18 million in 2017.

    Total revenue for NPR, PRI and APM

    • NPR
    • PRI
    • APM

    At the local public radio level, an analysis of the public filings provided by the 123 largest news-oriented licensees (organizations that operate local public radio stations) shows that in 2016 – the last year for which reliable data are available – total revenue for this group was $829 million.

    Local public radio station revenue

    Year Total revenue
    2008 $662,255,028
    2009 $635,097,527
    2010 $680,632,046
    2011 $736,772,807
    2012 $742,374,640
    2013 $775,779,526
    2014 $821,923,867
    2015 $806,928,542
    2016 $829,367,948

    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 123 news-oriented licensees studied here, individual giving and underwriting combined accounted for $556 million in revenue in 2016.

    Individual giving and underwriting revenue for local public radio stations

    Year Individual giving Underwriting
    2008 $246,033,393 $186,811,947
    2009 $260,202,855 $165,894,678
    2010 $269,136,911 $166,988,900
    2011 $289,700,081 $166,684,136
    2012 $296,739,904 $180,117,773
    2013 $311,323,553 $180,244,446
    2014 $323,671,449 $192,482,447
    2015 $339,148,175 $196,937,610
    2016 $351,891,752 $203,778,343

    Pew Research Center

    The total number of individual members – defined as anyone who has given money to one of the stations owned by these 123 licensees in each calendar year – in 2016 was 2.1 million, about the same as the previous year.

    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
    2016 2,090,074

    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 2017, contributions from individuals comprised 13% 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%
    2017 13% 17% 70%

    Pew Research Center

    Newsroom investment

    Program and production expenses for the 123 news-oriented local public radio licensees increased between 2015 and 2016 to $427 million, a growth rate of 7%. 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 $319,169,234
    2009 $331,330,707
    2010 $337,859,650
    2011 $353,435,708
    2012 $367,621,155
    2013 $368,229,862
    2014 $389,328,433
    2015 $399,226,934
    2016 $427,102,047

    Pew Research Center

    Find out more

    This fact sheet was compiled by Senior Writer/Editor Elizabeth Grieco.

    Read the methodology.

    Find more in-depth explorations of public broadcasting by following the link below: