RTDNA Research: Local news by the numbers

June 5, 2017 01:30

By Bob Papper, Professor Emeritus - Hofstra University
This is the sixth of nine installments for this year in a series of reports developed from RTDNA's annual survey of newsrooms across the United States. Topics in the series will be released every two weeks, including 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; broadcast newsroom staffing, women and minorities in newsrooms, and newsroom salaries. Reports are added here as they are released.

The local news survey highlights:
  • Big drop in local TV newsrooms
  • Amount of TV news hits another new record high
  • The amount of news on radio goes up
The number of TV stations originating local news accelerated its generally steady slide… dropping nine from last year. The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Survey shows the number of TV stations originating local news is down to 705 from last year’s 714. There were 717 two years ago.
Those 705 TV stations run news on those and another 357 stations. The latter number is another new, all-time high – up 18 from last year's 339. That puts the total number of stations running local news at a record 1,062 – up nine from a year ago. The total keeps going up, but it’s doing so because a smaller number of newsrooms are running news on more and more outlets.
For those keeping score by affiliation, here's how those 705 newsrooms break down:
  • 177 NBC affiliates - down another 2 (it was down 2 a year ago as well)
  • 172 CBS affiliates - same
  • 169 ABC affiliates - down 4
  •   72 Fox affiliates - down 2 (after being up 4 the year before)
  •   36 Univision affiliates - same (again)
  •   26 Independents (two of which are Hispanic) - down 1
  •   23 Telemundo affiliates - same (again)
  •   13 PBS affiliates - down 1
  •     9 CW affiliates - same (again)
  •     4 America ONE affiliates - same
  •     2 This TV affiliates - same
  •     1 Youtoo America - same
Up from last year: nobody
Down from last year: ABC, NBC, Fox, Independents, PBS
Staying the same: CBS, Univision, Telemundo, CW, America ONE, This TV, Youtoo America
And here's how those 357 stations that get news from another station break down:
  • 99 Fox affiliates - up 2
  • 53 CW affiliates - up 3
  • 41 MyNetworkTV affiliates - up 2
  • 37 CBS affiliates - down 1
  • 32 ABC affiliates - up 5
  • 27 NBC affiliates - up 3
  • 20 Independents - up 2
  • 16 UniMás - down 1
  • 10 Telemundo affiliates - up 1
  •   6 Univision affiliates - down 1
  •   5 MeTV affiliates - down 1
  •   2 MundoMax - same
  •   2 PBS affiliates - same
  •   2 Retro TV affiliates - up 1
  •   1 ion affiliate - same
  •   1 Canal de las Estrellas - same
  •   1 ThisTV - same
  •   1 Accuweather - same
  •   1 FamilyNet - up 1
Without getting into the whole list, I show no daily (at least weekday) local news on the following affiliates:
  • 163 PBS affiliates - up 1
  •   48 MyNet affiliates
  •   34 CW affiliates - down 4 (they were down 4 a year ago, too)
  •   10 Univision affiliates - up 1
  •     8 Telemundo affiliates - down 3
  •     7 Fox affiliates - down 1
  •     6 UniMás affiliates
  •     5 CBS affiliates - same
  •     2 ABC affiliates - down 1
  •     3 NBC affiliates - same
In radio, 80.5% of radio news directors and general managers say their station or station group is locally owned. All told, 78.1% of local radio groups report that at least one of the stations in the group runs local news. Overall, 71.2% of all radio stations in the survey report running local news… 70.8% of AM stations and 71.3% of FM stations.
The amount of local news in TV hit a new, record high this year. Again. The average amount of weekday news set a new, all-time high at 5.7 hours… up 12 minutes from the previous record set in 2012 and tied just last year. But the median weekday amount of 6 hours broke the old record (2016) by half an hour. The weekend remained unchanged, with identical medians for both Saturday and Sunday. Once again, the increases were pretty much across the board. With rare exception, almost every weekday number rose from a year ago. One of the few exceptions to that involves Fox 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. As always.

Overall, the numbers here are almost exactly the same as a year ago. Most changes were 1 or 2 points either way. Staff size, affiliation and geography made no meaningful difference in the numbers.

Overall, the percentage of stations adding a newscast edged up from a year ago… and it went up for almost every grouping except the largest newsrooms in markets 26 to 50. Stations in the Northeast were a little less likely than others to increase. The number of stations cutting newscasts was also just about the same. Note that I didn’t find any stations in the top 50 markets that cut a single newscast. The percentage saying they made no changes is also just about the same as a year ago. 
As with last year, added newscasts are all across the board. Still, for the third year in a row, the 4 p.m. hour took top honors. In fact, the top time range was 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.  But right on the heels of the late afternoon/early evening came the weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday and both morning and evening (although morning barely edged out evening). Then came 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. All strong and all about the same. Then came 7 p.m.… followed by the 6 a.m. hour, 9 a.m. hour and 11 a.m. hour… all exactly the same.
Only 13 news directors noted newscasts they had cut, and no single time had more than two votes. Five of the 13 did note some hour in the morning that they cut.
Note that added, cut and no change will not add up to 100% because some stations both added and cut.

Historically, this table has been a pretty good predictor of what the next year will look like. It was off two years ago – underestimating growth – but it’s back pretty much on target this time around. For the coming year, it shows a big drop in the percent of stations expecting to increase news. Overall, the drop is nine points… and down almost 15 points in markets 51 to 100. Not many expect cuts, but it looks like it’ll be a year of holding steady. That might reflect political uncertainty coupled with a non-election year. Fox affiliates are 10 points higher in terms of expecting to increase news.
Radio news
Overall in the survey, 78.1% of local radio groups report that at least one station in the group runs local news. That's almost two points lower than last year. In total, 71.2% of radio stations in the survey run local news – 70.8% -of AM stations and 71.3% of FM stations. The overall percentage running local news is up just over a point from last year… with AM stations down four and a half and FM stations up almost six. Commercial stations run local news at a higher rate than non-commercial ones: 72.6% of commercial stations run local news vs. 67.9% of non-commercial ones. That represents a drop in commercial stations running local news and an increase in non-commercial stations doing the same.
Stations running local news run the full gamut of programming. Of the 535 stations in the survey that run local news (and noted their programming):
  • 21.3% program some form of country music
  • 11.4% are news/talk
  •   9.5% are CHR (contemporary hit radio)
  •   9.2% are adult contemporary
  •   8.4% are rock
  •   7.5% are all news
  •   6.9% are music/variety/full service
  •   5.9% are oldies
  •   3.2% are sports
  •   2.8% are CCM (contemporary Christian music)
  •   2.6% are talk
  •   2.1% are AAA (adult album alternative)
  •   Then we have 10 different formats (including jazz, ethnic, urban, gospel, etc.)… all under 2% each.

The difficulty in tracking the amount of local news is the variance that some all news stations can bring to the data. Looks like we have one or two fewer major market all news or news/talk stations this year. Still, overall, the numbers are fairly similar to the last few years. The weekday average rose by 8 minutes; the median went up by 7. Numbers plunged on the weekend, which is where we really see the loss of those all news and news/talk stations. 
Generally, the bigger the staff, the more news a station runs – which is exactly what you’d expect. Usually, commercial stations run more local news than non-commercial stations, but this year, the average amount of news was identical… although commercial stations were one-third higher in median amount of time. Geography made relatively little difference.

These numbers aren't terribly different from last year, although the percentage saying they increased the amount of local news fell by almost 2 points (after falling 1.5 the year before). The percentage decreasing news rose by 2 points. Non-commercial stations were, again, more likely to increase news – up 7 points over commercial stations. But a year ago, they were up by two and a half times compared to commercial stations. There were no consistent differences by group, market size or region, except that the biggest newsrooms were much more likely to have increased the amount of local news. 
Over time, the planned amount of news has been a better and better predictor of the coming year. Projected news for this year is just about the same as a year ago… up by one point. Non-commercial news directors are three times as likely to expect to increase local news as commercial news directors. They always say that, but this time it’s even more so. Generally, the bigger the news staff and the larger the local station group, the more expectation of increasing local news. We’ll see how that comes out.

Commercial stations were almost twice as likely as non-commercial stations to have added a newscast in the past year. Generally, the smaller the market but the bigger the local group, the more likely to have added a newscast. All market sizes were about the same except major markets, which were noticeably less likely to have added a newscast. Geography made no difference. The percentage of stations cutting a newscast fell 1.2 from a year ago. Commercial stations were almost twice as likely as non-commercial ones to cut a newscast. Generally, the smaller the market, the more likely that a station cut a newscast. Stations in the West were much more likely to have cut a newscast. Note that more than two-thirds of stations neither added nor cut a newscast. The number rose to around 80% for major markets and non-commercial stations. Local groups of three or more stations were more likely to have added and/or cut than standalone stations or combos.
Newscast additions ranged across the day, with morning drive (5 a.m. – 10 a.m.) edging out afternoon drive (3 p.m. to 7 p.m.), which came in barely ahead of midday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Newscast cuts were virtually tied: morning, afternoon, midday.
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 2016 among all 1,684 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 3,987 radio stations. Valid responses came from 1,409 television stations (83.7%) and 430 radio news directors and general managers representing 1,151 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.