Before stepping into the main discussion of this blog, I would like to explain my personal history with the news media industry. Growing up, I was introduced to news at a very young age. In fact, I cannot remember a morning before school when the local news station or Today Show was not playing on our television. To this day, the news still plays every morning and evening at my childhood home.
However, as a student at Michigan State University, renting a house and not having a steady income, I cannot afford cable television so I rely heavily on my phone and downloaded apps to obtain news.
It seems like I’m not the only one.
The Pew Research Center estimates that roughly nine out of ten adults get their news online via mobile or desktop in the United States. Meanwhile, local TV news stations have lost audience members over the past decade. To be frank, it makes sense. Why would anyone sit down in one particular area to watch a program when they have access to the same information wherever they are, right at their fingertips?
According to Pew’s Local TV News Fact Sheet, viewership for network local affiliate news stations such as ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, has declined somewhat significantly in key time slots — morning, early evening and late night.
Average declined viewership for local affiliate news stations
While viewership may be on the decline, local TV companies have generated increasing revenue. Considering how digital media platforms are in some ways taking over the news media industry, this does not make sense. So I was surprised to know that local TV station revenue follows a cyclical pattern. In other words, it increases in election years and decreases in non-election years. What it all comes down to, however, is advertising revenue.
According to the BIA/Kelsey data, local TV over-the-air advertising revenue increased 11% from 2015, totaling $20.6 billion in the 2016 election year. Another thing I was surprised to know was that digital advertising revenue for these local TV stations only totaled about $1 billion. But if most people (nine out of ten) prefer using digital media, then why is its revenue so low compared to the on-air advertising revenue?
Digital advertising revenue versus over-the-air revenue for local TV stations
It is refreshing to see that staff and news reporter salaries at local TV stations are rising, as well as the number of hours dedicated to local TV news. I do find it very interesting that even though on-air viewership is declining, local TV news stations are adding more programming to their average weekday. Looking at viewership and finances, I am not sure if this could really help bring back the audience they once had.
While I am very happy to see local TV news still up and running, I do not see a future for it. Look at how much money was spent on the political advertising campaigns for example. To me, it just seems ludicrous to spend that much money on a platform where viewership is on a major decline.
Digital news provides real-time information in an affordable manner. Like I mentioned before, people love the immediate access to a plethora of information right at their fingertips and one day there is not going to be a need to turn on the television to see a breaking news story that you could have seen 15 minutes earlier online.