RTDNA Research: Local news by the numbers

May 31, 2016 01:30

By Bob Papper, Professor Emeritus - Hofstra University
This is the fifth in a series of reports developed from RTDNA's annual survey of newsrooms across the United States. Topics in the series include what's new online, social media and mobile strategies, television and radio budgets and profits, stations doing news, news director profiles, and our most popular areas of research; newsroom salaries, women and minorities in newsrooms, and broadcast newsroom staffing. Past and future reports are added here as they are released.

The local news highlights:
  • Amount of TV news hits record high
  • News directors expect to add more news this year
  • Small increase in radio stations running local news, and how much they run
Stations running local news
The number of TV stations originating local news continued its slow, steady slide… dropping three from last year. The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Survey shows the number of TV stations originating local news down to 714 from last year’s 717. 
Those 714 TV stations run news on those and another 339 stations. The latter number is another new, all-time high -- up from last year's 328. That puts the total number of stations running local news at a record 1,053 – up eight from a year ago.
For those keeping score by affiliation, here's how those 714 break down:
  • 179 NBC affiliates… down 2
  • 173 ABC affiliates… same
  • 172 CBS affiliates… down 1
  •   74 Fox affiliates… up 4
  •   36 Univision affiliates… same
  •   27 Independents (two of which are Hispanic)… same
  •   23 Telemundo affiliates… same
  •   14 PBS affiliates… same
  •     9 CW affiliates… same
  •     4 America ONE affiliates… down 1
  •     2 This TV affiliates… same
  •     1 Youtoo America… up 1
  •     0 MundoMax affiliate (formerly MundoFox)… down 3
  •     0 Soul of the South affiliate… down 1
Up from last year: Fox and Youtoo America
Down from last year: NBC, CBS, America ONE, MundoMax, Soul of the South
Staying the same: ABC, Univision, Independents, Telemundo, PBS, CW, This TV
And here's how those 339 stations that get news from another station break down:
  • 97 Fox affiliates… down 5
  • 50 CW affiliates… same
  • 39 MyNetworkTV affiliates… down 2
  • 38 CBS affiliates… up 5
  • 27 ABC affiliates… down 3
  • 24 NBC affiliates… same
  • 18 Independents… down 2
  • 17 UniMas… up 10
  •   9 Telemundo affiliates… up 3
  •   7 Univision affiliates… up 1
  •   3 MeTV affiliates… up 2
  •   2 MundoMax… same
  •   2 PBS affiliates… up 1
  •   1 Retro TV affiliate… same
  •   1 ion affiliate… same
  •   1 Canal de las Estrellas… same
  •   1 ThisTV… up 1
  •   1 Accuweather… up 1
  •   1 Heartland… up 1
  •   0 CNN affiliate… down 1
Without getting into the whole list, I show no daily (at least weekday) local news on the following affiliates:
  • 162 PBS affiliates…  down 2
  •   38 CW affiliates… down 4
  •   11 Telemundo affiliates… down 1
  •     9 Univision affiliates… down 2
  •     8 Fox affiliates… down 3
  •     5 CBS affiliates… down 1
  •     3 ABC affiliates… same
  •     3 NBC affiliates… up 1
Amount of local news
The amount of local news in TV hit a new, record high this year. The average amount of weekday news tied the all-time high set in 2012 of 5.5 hours, but the median weekday amount of 5.5 hours broke the old record by half an hour. Saturday’s average of 2.2 hours is also a record high, while Saturday’s median of 2 ties a record. Sunday’s average of 2 hours ties the record, but the Sunday median of 2 hours is an all time high. And the increases were pretty much across the board. With rare exception, every number either rose or stayed the same. One of the few exceptions to that involves NBC affiliates on weekdays, which dropped slightly. Geography made no difference in the amount of news.

Generally, the bigger the market and the bigger the news staff, the more news a TV station is likely to run.

After three years of slow drops in the percentage of TV stations increasing news, the numbers this year went the other way. The percentage increasing the amount of news went up by almost 7 points; the percentage cutting back was cut in half. This past year, a majority of top 25 market stations increased the amount of news. All market sizes except 26 to 50 went up, and stations in the West were a little more likely than others to increase the amount of news.

The percentage of TV stations adding a newscast jumped more than 7 points from last year.  The increases were across the board, although ABC and Fox affiliates lagged behind CBS and NBC stations.  The percentage of stations cutting a newscast fell by 0.7 from last year, with non-commercial stations at double the cuts compared with any other group.
It almost makes more sense to ask when TV stations didn’t add a newscast rather than when they did. But here’s the list of top additions:
1.  We start with a tie: Weekday afternoons in the 4 p.m. hour … second year in a row on top … along with
     Weekdays sometime between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.
3.  Sunday morning came in right behind, virtually tied with …
4.  Weekday newscasts sometime between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
5.  Saturday morning right behind that
6.  A three-way tie with weekday late (9 p.m. to 11 p.m.)
    Weekday midday (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and
    Weekday morning between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.
9.  Sunday evening not far behind
10. Saturday evening behind that
Only 12 TV news directors noted specific newscasts cut from the schedule.  Two-thirds of those were weekday or weekend mornings. The percentage of stations that made no changes to the news schedule dropped by 7 points this year. Note that added, cut and no change will not add up to 100% because some stations both added and cut.

Historically, this chart has been a pretty good predictor of what the next year will look like, but it seriously underestimated this year’s news expansion. The numbers expecting an increase next time are up only slightly from last year, so we’ll see what happens. Staff size made no difference in the numbers. NBC affiliates and stations in the South tended to expect less growth than other groups. Note that not a single news director expects to run less news this year than last year.
Radio news
Overall in the survey, 80% of local radio groups report that at least one station in the group runs local news. That's almost a point higher than last year. In total, 69.9% of radio stations in the survey run local news – 75.2% of AM stations and 65.6% of FM stations. The overall percentage running local news is up 3 points from last year. That helps make up for some of last year’s 4 point drop – which followed a nearly 8 point drop the year before. AM and FM stations were up about the same amount. Commercial stations ran local news at a much higher rate than non-commercial ones: 84.6% of commercial stations run local news vs. 63.4% of non-commercial ones. That represents a point increase among commercial stations and a one and a half point drop among non-commercial ones compared to a year ago.

College, educational, urban, hip/hop, eclectic and some others simply had too few responses to be statistically meaningful.
And as I do each year, I urge caution on all of those numbers. The numbers are based on radio stations that return the survey, and since it's a news survey, stations that run news could well be more likely to return the surveys than stations that do not. It's possible all those percentages of stations running local news are too high.

The amount of local news on radio looks remarkably similar to the numbers a year ago.  Average weekday rose by just under 2 minutes per day, but the median stayed exactly the same.  Saturday average rose by 3 minutes and Sunday rose by almost 3, but the medians (typical) for the weekend remained at zero. 
Generally, the bigger the market, the more news the average station ran… but that’s at least in part (maybe mostly) because there are a lot more all news stations in the biggest markets. Commercial stations ran about one-third more local news than non-commercial stations. Not surprisingly, the bigger the news staff, the more local news a station ran. That wasn’t true for the number of stations in a local group, although local groups of 6 or more stations did run more local news than others.

These numbers aren't dramatically different from last year, although the percentage saying they increased the amount of local news fell 1.5 from a year ago. Non-commercial stations were, again, more likely to increase news – by two and a half times compared to commercial stations. There were no meaningful differences by group, except that the bigger the newsroom, the more likely that the station increased the amount of local news.  
As far as what’s likely to happen this year, there was a 7 point drop (from last year) in the percentage of radio news directors expecting to increase the amount of news in 2016.  Twice as many non-commercial news directors expect to increase news as commercial news directors; they always say that. 

There were a lot more changes in radio newscasts than usual this past year. The percentage of stations adding a newscast rose by almost 6 points, but the percentage cutting a newscast also went up – by just over 6 points. Not surprisingly, then, the percentage reporting no change fell by 9 points in the past year. Non-commercial stations were twice as likely to add a newscast as commercial stations; commercial stations were three times as likely to cut a newscast. The bigger the staff, the more likely that a station added a newscast, and large and metro stations were twice as likely to add a newscast as medium and small markets. Group-owned stations were a bit more likely to add a newscast and to cut a newscast, but the number of stations in a group and geography made little difference.

Radio newscast additions and subtractions were more concentrated than usual this past year. Additions were mostly in morning drive, followed fairly closely by midday with afternoon drive well behind and everything else way behind that. Cuts were primarily in morning drive with afternoon drive, midday and across the board all tied at half the morning drive level. Note that added, cut and no change will not add up to 100% because some stations both added and cut.

Bob Papper is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Hofstra University and has worked extensively in radio and TV news.  This research was supported by the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University and the Radio Television Digital News Association.
About the Survey
The RTDNA/Hofstra University Survey was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2015 among all 1,681 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 4,037 radio stations.  Valid responses came from 1,286 television stations (76.5%) and 484 radio news directors and general managers representing 1,316 radio stations. Some data sets (e.g. the number of TV stations originating local news, getting it from others and women TV news directors) are based on a complete census and are not projected from a smaller sample.


2021 Events