Courtney Downey

Is Local TV News Shrinking or Growing?

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

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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

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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.


3 thoughts on “Is Local TV News Shrinking or Growing?

  1. I feel compelled to start this comment with #same. You bring up an interesting point, that among our generation and increasingly among our parents’ generation people don’t even have cable. It brings up an interesting opportunity or challenge for news organizations as viewers turn to platforms like Netflix or Hulu. Will these platforms begin broadcasting news programs? Will digital (written) news see an increase in leadership? Who knows. I don’t agree with your conclusion that local TV news has no future. According to the Pew report, local TV news still has more viewers on average than cable and network news programs. That seems crazy! Really, I think it speaks to how much people value their local news. You’re always going to have the moms watching their high schooler being interviewed for their role in musical. You’re always going to have the grandparents tracking their grandchild’s football season. You’re always going to have the proud non-profit volunteer calling their friends and family to tell them when to catch the interview on TV. I would say local TV news is one of the safer news media, simply because people love it.


  2. Like you, I wasn’t surprised to read that TV news viewership is going down and there’s been an increase in digital news consumption on mobile and desktop devices. I think that while a lot of people are talking about cutting the cord and getting rid of cable to watch their shows through platforms like Hulu and Netflix, local TV news is still trusted by the community and could find ways to keep people tuning in. I also think that it’s important to take things like the digital divide into consideration because when people talk about cutting the cord and saying that cable has no future, I think of my Mommom (my Mom’s mom), who is nearing the age of 80 and doesn’t have Wifi in her house. There are plenty of people who are in similar situations and aren’t as tech-savvy, and for them, local news is a major part of their day and how they consume information. Older people who aren’t familiar with or interested in learning about these technologies still have a desire to know what’s going on, and so do people who don’t have access to digital advances like we do.

    I also think that it makes sense that TV revenue went up through advertising dollars because digital marketing and advertising online is still relatively new, and not all companies are all that good at it. It’s a lot easier for companies to decide to go with what’s always been done to reach consumers: buy some time on a local TV station and advertise that way. While reading your post, I also began to think about whether Netflix and Hulu would plan to come out with news programs that could fill the gap that would be left by local news for cord-cutters, but I’m not sure how that would look. As of now, Netflix releases entire seasons of a show and doesn’t offer any nightly or weekly programs I’m aware of, so that would be an interesting thing for them to explore in the future. I bet they’re probably looking into options like that now, too. All in all, I enjoyed reading about your thoughts on this and definitely think local TV stations need to figure out ways to compliment digital news consumption while also keeping in mind that some people may still get most of their news by watching the 6 o’clock news as well.


  3. Courtney,

    I am the completely opposite for me I never was into news and watching tv. I was always into sports and watching Espn or Sports Center. But i agree with digital media provides us as a society an easier way to get news and media on a daily.


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