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Television remains a common place for Americans to get their news, with local TV on par with or outpacing cable and network TV. In 2020, local TV news saw its audience increase across the evening and late night time slots. Financially, local TV companies generated more revenue in 2020 than in 2019, consistent with a cyclical pattern in which revenue rises in election years and falls in non-election years. Explore patterns and longitudinal data in local TV news below.
In 2020, viewership for network local affiliate news stations (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) increased in two key time slots – evening (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.) and late night (11 p.m. to 2 a.m.) – according to Comscore StationView Essentials® data. Local TV average audience (defined as the average number of TVs tuned to a program throughout a time period) for the late night and evening news time slots both increased by 4%. The average audience for the morning news time slot (6 a.m. to 9 a.m) decreased 4% in 2020. Audience for the midday news time slot (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) increased 10% in 2020, while the average audience for the prime news time slot (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) decreased by 5%.
Average audience for local TV news
Local TV station revenue typically follows a cyclical pattern: It increases in election years and decreases in non-election years. In 2020, an election year, local TV over-the-air advertising revenue totaled $18.4 billion, an 8% increase over 2019, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of MEDIA Access Pro & BIA Advisory Services data.
Total digital advertising revenue for local TV stations increased 6% in 2020, reaching a total of about $1.4 billion. Digital advertising revenue accounted for 7% of total ad revenue.
Revenue for the 839 local TV stations defined as “news-producing stations” (stations that have a news director and are viable, commercial and are English-language affiliates in the U.S.) was $15.3 billion, according to the BIA Advisory Services database.
Revenue from retransmission fees – the fees paid by cable and satellite systems to carry local channels – has been increasing rapidly in the past decade, though the rate of growth has slowed recently, according to estimates from Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence. In 2019, retransmission revenue reached $11.9 billion, up from $11.1 billion in 2018 and $9.5 billion in 2017. Kagan projects that this figure will reach $13.3 billion by 2025.
Five major publicly held local TV station companies – Gray, Nexstar, Scripps, Sinclair and Tegna – report political advertising revenue separately from other types of revenues in their Securities and Exchange Commission filings. In 2020, the five companies reported a total of $2 billion in political advertising revenue, compared with $1.2 billion in 2018 and $843 million in 2016, the two most recent election years. (These five companies were once seven, but this reduction is due to two mergers – Nexstar purchased Media General in 2017 and Tribune in 2019.)
Roughly 30,000 employees worked as reporters, editors, photographers, or television, film and video editors or operators in broadcast TV newsrooms in 2020, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. Median wages for editors in 2020 were about $60,000, while for reporters the figure was about $56,000. For television, film and video editors and camera operators, the median wage was about $55,000. Photographers had a median wage of about $50,000. (Broadcast TV newsroom employment and wage data includes both national and local TV broadcasters. For details, see the methodology.)
Employment in broadcast TV newsrooms
The average amount of weekday local TV news programming increased slightly in 2020, according to the RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University survey. Local TV stations dedicated an average of 6.2 hours to news programming per weekday in 2020, up slightly from 5.9 hours in 2018 and 2019.
In 2020, 189 local TV stations changed hands at a cost of $3.6 billion, as annually reported by BIA Advisory Services. This is down from $6.5 billion across 102 stations that experienced changes in ownership in 2019.
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This fact sheet was compiled by Associate Director Katerina Eva Matsa and Research Assistant Jacob Liedke.
Read the methodology.
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.
Find more in-depth explorations of local TV news by following the links below:
- Coronavirus-Driven Downturn Hits Newspapers Hard as TV News Thrives, Oct. 29, 2020
- Local news is playing an important role for Americans during COVID-19 outbreak, July 2, 2020
- COVID-19: Both a national and local news story, April 29, 2020
- Who pays for local news in the U.S.?, Sept. 12, 2019
- Older Americans, Black Americans and Americans With Less Education More Interested in Local News, Aug. 14, 2019
- It’s more common for white, older, more-educated Americans to have spoken with local journalists, May 10, 2019
- For Local News, Americans Embrace Digital but Still Want Strong Community Connection, March 26, 2019
- Interactive: What are the local news dynamics in your city?, March 26, 2019