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Nielsen: Big Events Drove Consumption of TV News in Q4

The big headlines that broke in 2016 pushed news consumption higher, according to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report for the fourth quarter.

“Americans responded by watching, listening to and reading more news – a lot more news. Our tally of increased usage across national and local TV, radio and digital sources shows a 2016 increase of 11.2 billion minutes of news consumption per week, compared to 2015,” said Glenn Enoch, senior VP of audience insights at Nielsen, the author of the report.

Nielsen also looked at how news consumption is trending in 2017. “Spoiler alert: the year is starting with even more news viewing/listening/reading than the 2016 average,” Enoch said.

Adults 18 years old and up spent more than 73.5 billion minutes consuming news in the average week in 2016, up 18% from the prior year. Most of the increase came from viewing on the cable news networks, according to Nielsen.

National cable news jumped to 27.1 billion minutes per week watched from 18.8 billion minutes. Viewing of national broadcast TV news rose to 14.3 billion minutes from 13.6 billion minutes in 2016. News viewed on personal computers rose to 4.1 billion minutes from 2.8 billion minutes. Smartphone viewing climbed to 1.5 billion minutes from 1 billion minutes. Radio news listening rose to 11.5 billion minutes from 10.5 billion minutes.

Local broadcast TV news viewing rose slid to 15.1 billion minutes from 15.3 billion minutes.

The national cable networks’ share of news consumption rose to 8.5% from 6%.

The Nielsen numbers show that while there was a lot of cable news consumption, more people tuned in to watch national and local TV news.

National broadcast TV news reached 46.2% of adults 18-plus in 2016, up from 44.8% in 2015. Local TV news was watched by 44.9%, down from 45.9%. National cable news was watched by just 28.6%, up from 25.8%.

But those cable viewers watched 6 hours and 28 minutes per week, up from 5:03 in 2015, compared to the national broadcast TV viewers, who spent 2:07 watching (up from 2:06) and 4:27 for local TV news viewers (down from 4:30).

The largest share of young viewers—people 18-34—got their news from smartphones—29% reach—compared to 21.1% for national broadcast TV news, 21.7% for local TV news and 12.2% for national cable news.

But those young viewers spent a lot more time watching cable news, consuming 2:36 hours on average per week, up from 1:42. They watched 1:09 worth of broadcast TV news, 2:17 of local TV news and spent just 15 seconds on their smartphones.

National broadcast TV news had the most reach among older viewers—people 50-plus—with 65% of the demo tuning in during the week. They tuned in for 2 hours and 29 minutes. Local news reached 62.3% of older viewers, and they watched for 5:14. Just 42.3% of older viewers watched national cable news, but those that did tuned in for a whopping 7:56 per week.

Nielsen found that 81% of those watching national cable news were 50 years old and up, with just 6% of its viewers in the 18-34 age demo. For national broadcast news, 74% were 50-plus and just 8% were 18-34. In local TV news, 73% were 50-plus, with 8% in the 18-34 bracket.

Cable news had the largest share of viewers in homes earnings $75,000 or more per year at 40%, compared with 32% for broadcast and 33% for local.

In January, news viewing continued to rise from 2016 levels, with national cable up 20%, local news up 12% and national broadcast up 6%.

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.