Local News Sees Ratings Growth in Unlikely Demos

By A.J. Katz Comment

Americans are increasingly turning to their local newscasts for the most up-to-date information on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their own communities.

Based on historic human behavior during crises, this rise in local news viewing is not surprising.

A recent Nielsen analysis highlights a notable spike in local news viewing between early February and early March.

Viewing data was analyzed across Nielsen’s Local People Meter markets, which are 25 of the largest local markets as defined by Nielsen’s Local TV Household Universe Estimates.

Local news has posted a gradual increase of +7% in total viewers between early February and the week of March 9.

Among adults 25-54, the spike was higher, as we’ll show below.

As COVID-19 began its spread across the U.S., rising local news viewership tracked alongside the regions where the most cases have been reported. Washington State was hit earlier than other regions, and San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Calif., and Seattle (and the Orlando, Fla., DMA) had the most significant increases in local news viewing.

During the analyzed period, local news viewing among adults 25-54 was up +38% in the San Francisco-Bay Area; news viewing in L.A. was +25% among the same age demo.

New York, presently the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., hasn’t seen quite as much growth as some of the other DMAs, but that could change once ratings data for the week to-date rolls in.

The most interesting growth is happening among non-adults. Local news viewing is seeing +20% growth in people 2-17.

“Non-adults have typically contributed very little to the profile of local news viewing,” said Nielsen local audience insights vp Justin LaPorte. ”In the week of March 9, however, when schools across the U.S. began to move to in-home learning, 25-54s added more local news to their daily routines. As a result, there was more viewing among non-adults.”

This is good news for local stations, a genre that has coveted younger audiences forever. With America at home and flocking to local TV in this crisis, there exists a unique opportunity for advertisers to demonstrate their brand value. The school closures/in-home learning may also present new programming opportunities for stations, which rarely attract kids.

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