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.
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.)
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
- Public Radio International
- American Public Media
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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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: