MORE FACT SHEETS: STATE OF THE NEWS MEDIA

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.

Audience

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

Year Morning news Evening news Late night news
2016 2,885,533 4,104,769 4,206,819
2017 2,512,654 3,875,882 3,987,588
2018 2,261,440 3,320,031 3,413,721
2019 2,522,831 3,570,905 3,560,360
2020 2,412,100 3,728,038 3,704,095

Pew Research Center

Year Prime news Midday news
2016 3,863,224 2,481,616
2017 3,813,822 2,385,257
2018 3,084,067 1,922,708
2019 3,294,428 2,133,284
2020 3,134,966 2,351,802

Pew Research Center

Economics

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.

Advertising revenue for local TV

Year Digital Over-the-air
2004 $22,400,000,000
2005 $21,000,000,000
2006 $22,800,000,000
2007 $21,542,700,000
2008 $20,621,200,000
2009 $15,768,500,000
2010 $400,000,000 $18,661,700,000
2011 $534,750,000 $17,221,600,000
2012 $625,870,000 $19,612,800,000
2013 $695,790,000 $17,772,200,000
2014 $819,840,000 $19,371,900,000
2015 $914,460,000 $17,852,300,000
2016 $1,009,480,000 $19,877,200,000
2017 $1,037,830,000 $17,218,000,000
2018 $1,184,820,000 $19,468,800,000
2019 $1,316,660,000 $17,082,800,000
2020 $1,401,800,000 $18,377,300,000
2021* $1,542,550,000 $14,934,000,000
2022* $1,697,300,000 $17,855,700,000
2023* $1,836,300,000 $15,387,700,000
2024* $2,005,400,000 $18,759,900,000
2025* $2,171,600,000 $15,482,200,000

Pew Research Center

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.

Retransmission fee revenue for U.S. local TV stations

Year Revenue
2006 $214,600,000
2007 $314,300,000
2008 $502,300,000
2009 $769,400,000
2010 $1,259,500,000
2011 $1,800,600,000
2012 $2,443,300,000
2013 $3,669,400,000
2014 $4,928,000,000
2015 $6,517,600,000
2016 $8,079,500,000
2017 $9,523,400,000
2018 $11,062,200,000
2019 $11,887,000,000
2020* $12,166,300,000
2021* $12,427,100,000
2022* $12,636,800,000
2023* $12,909,800,000
2024* $13,162,700,000
2025* $13,331,700,000

Pew Research Center

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.)

Political advertising revenue at local TV companies

Year Revenue
2012 $573,591,000
2013 $49,880,000
2014 $696,482,000
2015 $124,451,000
2016 $842,737,000
2017 $111,612,000
2018 $1,202,996,000
2019 $212,130,000
2020 $2,014,282,000

Pew Research Center

Newsroom investment

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

 Year Total
2004 29,630
2005 28,550
2006 28,360
2007 27,600
2008 28,390
2009 28,040
2010 28,640
2011 28,050
2012 27,830
2013 25,650
2014 26,300
2015 28,430
2016 28,190
2017 28,900
2018 28,670
2019 30,120
2020 29,700

Pew Research Center

Year News analysts, reporters
and journalists
Editors Photographers Television, video, and film camera operators and editors
2012 $50,488 $54,678 $44,084 $41,633
2013 $49,339 $53,591 $42,461 $39,066
2014 $49,086 $54,559 $42,903 $45,376
2015 $52,531 $53,405 $44,413
2016 $52,855 $55,443 $48,087
2017 $54,181 $57,233 $48,109
2018 $56,293 $59,066 $47,057 $51,583
2019 $56,203 $58,957 $48,397 $53,348
2020 $56,140 $60,210 $50,490 $54,800

Pew Research Center

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.

Number of hours dedicated to local TV news

Year Hours
2003 3.7
2004 3.6
2005 3.8
2006 4.1
2007 4.1
2008 4.6
2009 5.0
2010 5.3
2011 5.5
2012 5.4
2013 5.3
2014 5.3
2015 5.5
2016 5.7
2017 5.6
2018 5.9
2019 5.9
2020 6.2

Pew Research Center

Ownership

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.

Mergers and acquisitions of local TV stations

Year Revenue
2000 $8,800,000,000
2001 $4,900,000,000
2002 $2,529,000,000
2003 $520,000,000
2004 $872,000,000
2005 $2,842,000,000
2006 $18,127,000,000
2007 $2,899,000,000
2008 $537,000,000
2009 $714,000,000
2010 $199,000,000
2011 $1,102,000,000
2012 $1,891,000,000
2013 $9,712,000,000
2014 $4,616,000,000
2015 $670,000,000
2016 $5,280,000,000
2017 $4,684,000,000
2018 $8,800,000,000
2019 $6,500,000,000
2020 $3,600,000,000

Pew Research Center

Find out more

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: