MORE FACT SHEETS: STATE OF THE NEWS MEDIA

Hundreds of local and regional radio and television stations comprise the U.S. public media system. On the radio side, organizations such as NPR and Public Radio Exchange (PRX) produce and distribute programming, reaching audiences through local stations as well as digital channels. (American Public Media, which has provided data for this sheet in the past, did not do so this year.) Individual stations, such as New York’s WNYC and Chicago’s WBEZ, produce nationally syndicated original journalism as well. On the television side, PBS NewsHour produces an evening newscast that airs on local PBS stations around the country. The organization has a digital operation as well. On the whole, the news offerings of U.S. public broadcasters have been marked by relative financial stability and audience. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about public broadcasting below. (Further data on podcasting is available in a separate fact sheet.)

Audience

The top 20 NPR-affiliated public radio stations (by listenership) had on average a total weekly listenership of about 9 million in 2020, down 9% from 2019. (This includes listeners of NPR programming as well as original or other syndicated content aired on these stations.)

Weekly broadcast audience for top 20 NPR-affiliated radio stations

Year Listenership
2015 8,724,100
2016 10,212,600
2017 11,210,500
2018 10,413,500
2019 10,112,500
2020 9,164,100

Pew Research Center

When looking specifically at NPR programming across all stations that carry it, terrestrial broadcast listenership declined by 7% between 2019 and 2020. (Traditional radio listening is “terrestrial,” i.e., coming from radio broadcast towers rather than satellites or the internet.) About 26.1 million average weekly listeners tuned in to NPR programming during the year, down from 28.0 million in 2019, according to internal data provided by the organization.

Programming from PRX, which distributes programs such as The World and The Takeaway, reached a terrestrial audience of about 9.5 million on average per week, roughly the same as in 2019.

Weekly broadcast audience of NPR and PRX

Year Listenership
2005 25,300,000
2006 25,500,000
2007 25,500,000
2008 26,400,000
2009 26,400,000
2010 27,200,000
2011 26,800,000
2012 26,000,000
2013 27,300,000
2014 26,200,000
2015 26,000,000
2016 29,700,000
2017 30,100,000
2018 28,500,000
2019 28,000,000
2020 26,100,000

Pew Research Center

Year Listenership
2015 8,132,000
2016 8,861,000
2017 8,813,000
2018 9,666,300
2019 9,583,900
2020 9,476,600

Pew Research Center

NPR’s broadcasting reach remained mostly stable between 2019 and 2020 in terms of both the number of member stations (stations either owned or operated by member organizations) and the number of stations airing any NPR programming (which includes member stations). The number of member organizations – flagship educational and community organizations that operate at least one station – stood at 254, down 4% from the previous year.

Broadcasting reach of NPR

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
NPR member stations 849 946 972 990 991 1,001 1,011 1,020
All stations (member and nonmember) airing NPR programming 1,001 1,029 1,054 1,072 1,074 1,074 1,076 1,069

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2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
NPR member organizations 269 263 265 264 260 263 265 254

Pew Research Center

In 2020, 927 stations were airing programming from PRX, roughly the same as in 2019.

Broadcasting reach of PRX

 Year Stations
2016 836
2017 830
2018 849
2019 907
2020 927

Pew Research Center

NPR’s digital platforms continue to be an important part of its reach. The NPR One app, which offers a stream of individual shows and podcasts, had a similar average number of total completed sessions in 2020 as in 2019, depending upon the device. (A completed session is any instance in which a user starts and stops using the app.) The NPR News app, which offers livestreams from individual stations and digital content, increased sharply in completed sessions among iPhone users.

Monthly sessions on NPR apps

 App 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
NPR News: Android 2,913,814 3,613,494 5,005,041 8,242,722 6,756,009 5,384,844 6,386,130
NPR News: iPhone 6,947,956 7,826,679 11,433,558 14,502,478 19,167,542 26,846,656
NPR News: iPad 2,734,069 1,610,358 1,630,880 1,488,862 1,248,160 1,050,676 1,170,398
NPR One: Android 460,263 1,326,320 2,396,494 2,984,181 2,302,035 2,185,129
NPR One: iPhone 758,531 2,649,326 4,462,950 4,506,901 4,362,124 4,406,649

Pew Research Center

The audience for public television programming increased sharply over the past year: In 2020, the NewsHour program, which airs on PBS, attracted 1.2 million viewers on average, up 18% from the year before.

PBS NewsHour viewership

Year Total average viewership
2016 1,007,000
2017 1,187,000
2018 1,110,000
2019 1,018,000
2020 1,197,000

Pew Research Center

Economics

The financial picture for news outlets in public broadcasting appeared strong both locally and nationally.

At the national level, NPR’s total operating revenue in 2020 was $270.1 million, roughly the same as 2019. PRX was down 10%, falling to about $37.6 million in total revenue for 2020.

Total revenue for NPR and PRX

Year Revenue
2015 $195,900,000
2016 $213,100,000
2017 $232,800,000
2018 $251,300,000
2019 $276,000,000
2020 $270,100,000

Pew Research Center

Year Revenue
2015 $17,400,000
2016 $21,900,000
2017 $18,100,000
2018 $18,800,000
2019 $41,600,000
2020 $37,600,000

Pew Research Center

At the local public radio level, an analysis of the public filings provided by 123 of the largest news-oriented licensees (organizations that operate local public radio stations) shows that in 2019 – the last year for which reliable data is available – total revenue for this group was $989.7 million.

Local public radio station revenue

Year Total revenue
2008 $696,204,389
2009 $666,338,114
2010 $722,893,464
2011 $776,343,600
2012 $783,804,461
2013 $820,010,203
2014 $860,767,759
2015 $848,355,098
2016 $886,019,807
2017 $940,900,239
2018 $968,394,761
2019 $989,733,531

Pew Research Center

This revenue for local public radio comes from a range of streams, but individual giving (which includes member revenue and major gifts) and underwriting (from businesses and foundations as well as other nonprofit organizations) are two key sources of funding. Among the 123 news-oriented licensees studied here, individual giving and underwriting accounted for a combined $657.4 million in revenue in 2019.

Individual giving and underwriting revenue for local public radio news stations

Year Individual giving Underwriting
2008 $260,960,182 $198,025,282
2009 $276,161,970 $175,689,164
2010 $288,300,541 $178,751,907
2011 $308,219,610 $177,198,166
2012 $316,004,310 $191,696,566
2013 $331,939,227 $192,111,102
2014 $342,250,140 $203,386,494
2015 $365,703,727 $212,194,935
2016 $376,131,389 $217,585,274
2017 $399,172,509 $220,103,262
2018 $418,737,546 $226,547,675
2019 $429,788,764 $227,610,088

Pew Research Center

The total number of individual members – defined as anyone who has given money to one of the stations owned by these 123 licensees in each calendar year – in 2019 was 2.4 million, about the same as the previous year.

Local public radio station membership

Year Total membership
2008 1,665,924
2009 1,743,232
2010 1,790,393
2011 1,940,486
2012 1,956,201
2013 2,016,449
2014 2,103,547
2015 2,046,745
2016 2,087,018
2017 2,292,509
2018 2,312,170
2019 2,351,783

Pew Research Center

On the television side, NewsHour derives its revenue from a variety of sources, including PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and a mix of “nonpublic” streams such as corporations, individual giving and foundations. While the details about public sources of revenue were unavailable for this analysis, NewsHour did provide information about its breakdown of nonpublic funding. In 2020, contributions from individuals comprised 24% of total nonpublic funding. (Information on whether the total amount of this funding rose or fell was also unavailable.)

PBS NewsHour nonpublic funding makeup

Year Individuals Corporations Foundations
2014 3% 41% 56%
2015 6% 23% 71%
2016 11% 19% 70%
2017 13% 17% 70%
2018 13% 17% 70%
2019 15% 22% 63%
2020 24% 18% 58%

Pew Research Center

Newsroom investment

Program and production expenses for the 123 news-oriented local public radio licensees was $500 million in 2019, compared with $487.9 million in 2018. While program and production expenses comprise only a portion of overall station expenses, an increase in these kinds of expenditures indicates that the stations are directing more dollars toward the creation of news content.

Local public radio station expenses

Year Total program and production expenses
2008 $338,809,734
2009 $351,691,120
2010 $362,090,814
2011 $376,263,094
2012 $391,881,242
2013 $393,030,444
2014 $412,026,674
2015 $430,979,153
2016 $456,696,435
2017 $464,649,700
2018 $487,946,669
2019 $500,017,410

Pew Research Center

Find out more

This fact sheet was compiled by Senior Researcher Michael Barthel and Research Assistant Kirsten Worden.

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.

Read the methodology.

Find more in-depth explorations of public broadcasting by following the links below: