Local TV News Ratings Are Down, But Revenue Is Up

By A.J. Katz 

This may not come as a surprise to most of you who work in local TV news, but, according to a new Pew Research study viewership of local TV news is down over the past decade.

Yet despite ratings declines, local TV news still earns more viewers on average than cable or network news. Since 2007, the average audience for late night newscasts has dropped -31 percent, morning audience is down -12 percent, and early evening news viewership is down -19 percent, per Nielsen data.

Financially, local TV companies have generated increasing revenue, though in a cyclical pattern tied to election years. In 2016, ad revenue was nearly $21 billion, up double digits from 2015.

For election news in particular, cable news brands were named as the main source by a larger portion of voters than local TV news programming.

Since 2004, Pew Research Center has issued an annual report on audience and economic indicators for a variety of sectors within the news media industry. This year, instead of a single summary report, Pew has produced a series of fact sheets, showcasing the most important current and historical data points for each sector.

Here are some key findings from the new study:

  • Ratings for network local affiliate news stations (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) declined in 2016 across key time slots.
  • In 2016, local TV over-the-air advertising revenue totaled $20.6 billion, an +11 percent over 2015, according to BIA/Kelsey data. According to our report from yesterday, that number could increase to $20.9 billion by the end of 2017.
    • Total digital ad revenue was +10 percent in 2016, reaching a total of about $1 billion.
    • Ad revenue for 832 local TV stations defined as “news-producing stations” was estimated at $17.3 billion.
  • Local TV newsroom staff salaries saw an increase in 2015, the most recent year for which this type of data is available, according to the annual RTDNA/Hofstra survey. The survey finds that the median salary for a news director position at local TV newsrooms rose +7 percent in 2015, while the median news reporter salary was +11 percent.
  • The average amount of weekday local TV news programming increased slightly in 2016, according to the RTDNA/Hofstra survey. Local TV stations dedicated an average of 5.7 hours to news programming per weekday in 2016, up from 5.5 hours in 2015.
  • In 2016, 98 local TV stations changed hands at a cost of about $5 billion, as reported by BIA/Kelsey. This is up from $670 million across 86 stations that experienced changes in ownership in 2015. Expect that number to shoot up assuming Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media and its 200+ local stations ends up going through.