Pew Study: Local TV Gains Viewers By Bucking Tradition

By Kevin Eck 

A new study from the Pew Research Center reveals local TV stations are gaining viewers for newscasts during non-traditional times.

The study says viewership during traditional hours (morning,early evening and late night) is down 12 percent since 2007. But viewership between 2013 and 2014 of very early morning, midday and 7:00 p.m. news is up.

While the number of viewers watching during the stations 4:30 a.m., Midday and 7:00 p.m. timeslots is lower than during traditional hours, the 7:00 p.m timeslot is the only segment showing double a digit gain from 2013 to 2014.

year to year viewer

TVSpy’s Drunk History version says the trend probably follows the commuting patterns of the markets, meaning it’s nearly impossible for someone with a 40 hour a week job, who commutes an hour each way, to watch a 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. show.

The 7 p.m. time slot carries special appeal for local stations as it immediately follows networks’ national news programs. In 2014, that time slot saw the biggest growth among the three nontraditional time slots studied here, enjoying an 11% increase from the year before. Over the past five years, newscasts on network affiliates in the 7 p.m. time slot have grown their audience by 8%.

Very early morning news also continued to grow in 2014, though the rate has slowed somewhat. Newscasts at 4:30 a.m. saw a 6% boost from the year before. This increase comes after 4:30 a.m. viewership more than tripled in 2011 (up 337%) and saw a 13% increase in both 2012 and 2013.

Local TV stations have also added midday newscasts, which gained viewers in all sweeps periods in 2014. The average audience grew by 8% in 2014, the second year in a row midday newscasts’ viewership has increased.

Still, the total number of viewers for these dayparts accounts for a small fraction of the total number of viewers traditional time slots get. For example, newscasts at 4:30 a.m. averaged just 3.1 million viewers, compared with 23.9 million on average for 11 p.m. news, the most-watched time slot. This presents a challenge for stations turning to these scheduling strategies in efforts to improve revenues.

It remains to be seen whether growth at nontraditional time slots will, in the long run, make up for declines at traditional hours.