The numbers are in: Local news isn't dying if you look to TV

December 18, 2018 11:00

By Kevin Mott, Program Analyst, Stanton Foundation (contact Kevin)

While academics and popular media alike claim the death of local news, there have been few serious investigations into the health of local television news. Rather, the decline of local newspapers is taken as indicative of the death of the whole local news industry. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, 37% of Americans use local television to get their news, whereas only 18% of Americans use print newspapers (including nationally distributed newspapers).

Pew’s 2018 “State of the Media” Fact Sheet includes this good news: local television news is remaining viable. In fact, local television news has demonstrated growing revenue, stable employment, and robust viewership.

Taking a new, deeper look at the numbers shows that local TV news, compared to local newspapers, are in good shape. Read the full report here.

Newspaper struggles
As seen by using the McClatchy Company as a case study for the entire local newspaper industry, revenue, employment, and circulation are all down. Revenues have fallen from $1.9 billion in 2008 to $0.9 billion in 2017, a 53% decline. Employment has quartered, falling from 15,250 full-time employees in 2006 to 3,900 in 2017. Average paid daily circulation has halved, falling from 2.84 million in 2006 to 1.29 million in 2017.

Television strengths
Contrarily, the local television news industry is holding its own. As aggregated by Pew, revenue increased by 35% between 2010 and 2018, from $20.58 billion to $27.87 billion. During this same window, employment is largely unchanged, starting at 29,630 and ending at 28,900 total full-time employees. Though declining, viewership has remained strong: 2017 viewership of early evening news is at a relatively healthy 80% of 2007 viewership, decreasing from 25.72 to 20.71 million early evening viewers per weeknight. These viewership numbers are despite the increased use of digital-only news sources and do not count viewers of rebroadcasts.

An increased reliance on retransmission revenues is driving television’s revenue growth: despite decreasing over-the-air advertisement revenue, the increased size of retransmission revenue is buoying total revenue. In 2010, retransmission revenue comprised only 6% of total revenue. In 2017, this ballooned to 34%. Though Pew projects retransmission revenue’s relative size to stabilize in coming years, total revenue is still expected to grow. Clearly, broadcasters highly value local television coverage when marketing cable packages.

The outlook for TV
Local television news is poised to maintain its position as the de facto leader in local news coverage, thanks to yearly increases in total revenue, stable employment, and relatively robust viewership numbers. In fact, its general health seems to refute calls from intellectuals that local news is going out of favor with audiences. While this is certainly true for local newspapers, the 2010s has proven to be a friendly decade for local television news.

Read the Station Foundation’s full report here.
The Stanton Foundation was created by Frank Stanton, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest executives in the history of electronic communications and one of the television industry’s founding fathers. The Foundation’s interests include classic and twenty-first century First Amendment issues and the larger challenge of the creation of a better informed citizenry. 



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