Fact Sheet

June 29, 2021

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 radio side, organizations such as NPR and Public Radio Exchange (PRX) produce and distribute programming, reaching audiences through local stations as well as digital channels. (American Public Media, which has provided data for this sheet in the past, did not do so this year.) 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 audience. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about public broadcasting below. (Further data on podcasting is available in a separate fact sheet.)

    Audience

    The top 20 NPR-affiliated public radio stations (by listenership) had on average a total weekly listenership of about 9 million in 2020, down 9% from 2019. (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 Listenership
    2015 8,724,100
    2016 10,212,600
    2017 11,210,500
    2018 10,413,500
    2019 10,112,500
    2020 9,164,100

    Pew Research Center

    When looking specifically at NPR programming across all stations that carry it, terrestrial broadcast listenership declined by 7% between 2019 and 2020. (Traditional radio listening is “terrestrial,” i.e., coming from radio broadcast towers rather than satellites or the internet.) About 26.1 million average weekly listeners tuned in to NPR programming during the year, down from 28.0 million in 2019, according to internal data provided by the organization.

    Programming from PRX, which distributes programs such as The World and The Takeaway, reached a terrestrial audience of about 9.5 million on average per week, roughly the same as in 2019.

    Weekly broadcast audience of NPR and PRX

    • National Public Radio
      (NPR)
    • Public Radio Exchange (PRX)

    NPR’s broadcasting reach remained mostly stable between 2019 and 2020 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 254, down 4% from the previous year.

    Broadcasting reach of NPR

    • NPR stations
    • NPR member organizations

    In 2020, 927 stations were airing programming from PRX, roughly the same as in 2019.

    Broadcasting reach of PRX

     Year Stations
    2016 836
    2017 830
    2018 849
    2019 907
    2020 927

    Pew Research Center

    NPR’s digital platforms continue to be an important part of its reach. The NPR One app, which offers a stream of individual shows and podcasts, had a similar average number of total completed sessions in 2020 as in 2019, depending upon the device. (A completed session is any instance in which a user starts and stops using the app.) The NPR News app, which offers livestreams from individual stations and digital content, increased sharply in completed sessions among iPhone users.

    Monthly sessions on NPR apps

     App 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
    NPR News: Android 2,913,814 3,613,494 5,005,041 8,242,722 6,756,009 5,384,844 6,386,130
    NPR News: iPhone 6,947,956 7,826,679 11,433,558 14,502,478 19,167,542 26,846,656
    NPR News: iPad 2,734,069 1,610,358 1,630,880 1,488,862 1,248,160 1,050,676 1,170,398
    NPR One: Android 460,263 1,326,320 2,396,494 2,984,181 2,302,035 2,185,129
    NPR One: iPhone 758,531 2,649,326 4,462,950 4,506,901 4,362,124 4,406,649

    Pew Research Center

    The audience for public television programming increased sharply over the past year: In 2020, the NewsHour program, which airs on PBS, attracted 1.2 million viewers on average, up 18% from the year before.

    PBS NewsHour viewership

    Year Total average viewership
    2016 1,007,000
    2017 1,187,000
    2018 1,110,000
    2019 1,018,000
    2020 1,197,000

    Pew Research Center

    Economics

    The financial picture for news outlets in public broadcasting appeared strong both locally and nationally.

    At the national level, NPR’s total operating revenue in 2020 was $270.1 million, roughly the same as 2019. PRX was down 10%, falling to about $37.6 million in total revenue for 2020.

    Total revenue for NPR and PRX

    • NPR
    • PRX

    At the local public radio level, an analysis of the public filings provided by 123 of the largest news-oriented licensees (organizations that operate local public radio stations) shows that in 2019 – the last year for which reliable data is available – total revenue for this group was $989.7 million.

    Local public radio station revenue

    Year Total revenue
    2008 $696,204,389
    2009 $666,338,114
    2010 $722,893,464
    2011 $776,343,600
    2012 $783,804,461
    2013 $820,010,203
    2014 $860,767,759
    2015 $848,355,098
    2016 $886,019,807
    2017 $940,900,239
    2018 $968,394,761
    2019 $989,733,531

    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 businesses and foundations as well as other nonprofit organizations) are two key sources of funding. Among the 123 news-oriented licensees studied here, individual giving and underwriting accounted for a combined $657.4 million in revenue in 2019.

    Individual giving and underwriting revenue for local public radio news stations

    Year Individual giving Underwriting
    2008 $260,960,182 $198,025,282
    2009 $276,161,970 $175,689,164
    2010 $288,300,541 $178,751,907
    2011 $308,219,610 $177,198,166
    2012 $316,004,310 $191,696,566
    2013 $331,939,227 $192,111,102
    2014 $342,250,140 $203,386,494
    2015 $365,703,727 $212,194,935
    2016 $376,131,389 $217,585,274
    2017 $399,172,509 $220,103,262
    2018 $418,737,546 $226,547,675
    2019 $429,788,764 $227,610,088

    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 2019 was 2.4 million, about the same as the previous year.

    Local public radio station membership

    Year Total membership
    2008 1,665,924
    2009 1,743,232
    2010 1,790,393
    2011 1,940,486
    2012 1,956,201
    2013 2,016,449
    2014 2,103,547
    2015 2,046,745
    2016 2,087,018
    2017 2,292,509
    2018 2,312,170
    2019 2,351,783

    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 2020, contributions from individuals comprised 24% 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%
    2018 13% 17% 70%
    2019 15% 22% 63%
    2020 24% 18% 58%

    Pew Research Center

    Newsroom investment

    Program and production expenses for the 123 news-oriented local public radio licensees was $500 million in 2019, compared with $487.9 million in 2018. While program and production expenses comprise only a portion of overall station expenses, an increase in these kinds of expenditures indicates that the stations are directing more dollars toward the creation of news content.

    Local public radio station expenses

    Year Total program and production expenses
    2008 $338,809,734
    2009 $351,691,120
    2010 $362,090,814
    2011 $376,263,094
    2012 $391,881,242
    2013 $393,030,444
    2014 $412,026,674
    2015 $430,979,153
    2016 $456,696,435
    2017 $464,649,700
    2018 $487,946,669
    2019 $500,017,410

    Pew Research Center

    Find out more

    This fact sheet was compiled by Senior Researcher Michael Barthel and Research Assistant Kirsten Worden.

    Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

    Read the methodology.

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