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July 13, 2018, 9:29 a.m.
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LINK: www.journalism.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   July 13, 2018

While local TV news still barely beats the internet as the top source of news for Americans (no, really), viewership and revenue continued to slide in 2017, according to Pew’s latest local TV news fact sheet. Americans are still drawn to audio content, with high percentages tuning into some kind of radio station (there are only 26 all-news terrestrial radio stations left) and podcast listenership continuing to grow.

Local TV news

Average audience decreased by 15 percent in 2017 over the previous year, with evening news remaining stable — though late night and early evening declined by seven percent, and midday declined four percent. (The data comes from ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC affiliates.) Partly because it wasn’t an election year (when political advertising bumps up the airwaves’ coffers), total over-the-air ad revenue for local TV decreased by 13 percent, to $17.4 billion. Online, advertising for local TV stations inched up by three percent, to $1 billion.

But the lack of an election didn’t slow down the political advertising revenue too much. In 2017, $112 million came from political ads, compared to $124 million in 2015 and $50 million in 2013, the two most recent non-election years. (Those figures came from Tribune, Nexstar, Sinclair, Tegna, Gray, and Scripps.)

Revenue is increasingly coming from the retransmission fees that cable and satellite systems fork over to carry local channels. Revenue from those topped $9 billion in 2017 — up from $8 billion in 2016 — and it’s expected to keep growing.

Local TV news outlets continue to show their creativity, running augmented reality experiments and crowdsourcing investigations. That innovation comes from the 29,000 reporters, editors, photographers, and visual editors who made up the broadcast newsrooms in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number’s remained roughly constant since 2004, though the quantity of local TV news content has steadily risen from an average of 3.7 hours per weekday in 2003 to 5.6 in 2017.

Audio and podcasting

Over in the non-visual corner, 90 percent of Americans over age 12 listen to AM/FM radio at least once a week — down 2 percent since 2009. (This does not include public media, which Pew covered in a separate fact sheet.)

As of early 2018, 57 percent of online radio listeners were tuning in once a week — up from 12 percent in 2007. Podcasts continue to gain listeners, Pew notes, citing previously published Edison Research data. The numbers are still an upward trend — not too bad for an industry a fraction of the age of TV and terrestrial radio, as advertising continues to grow. The revenue side of the radio dial continues to slide, down to $20.9 million in 2017 from $21.8 million in 2016.

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