PEJ Study: 2010 Was a Good Year For Stations, Grim Trends and All

The Project For Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) reports its 2010 "State of the News Media Report" today (March 14), including some compelling findings for local broadcasters. Local news production is up 20% in the past four years. And the appetite for local news--not to mention the spots within local news--remains strong, even if that appetite is increasingly sated across multiple, and less lucrative, platforms.

"Local stations remain Americans' No.1 television news choice," reported PEJ. "Half of all Americans say they watch regularly and they have more choices than ever of when and where to watch it. Stations have been able to make up for most of the loss in audience for traditional newscasts by adding more hours of news and by producing news for other stations. But while airtime for news is up 20% on average over the past four years, news investment has not kept pace."

Adjusted for inflation, average station revenue has dropped by almost half in the past nine years.

Stations' presence in their local markets may never be what it was pre-Facebook, cable, etc. Looking at viewership in May, July and November sweeps, stations' early evening newscasts (5-7 p.m.) lost about 1.1% of viewership in 2010, an improvement over the 5.3% they lost in 2009.

Late local news on network affiliated stations was down almost 2% in 2010. Over the past four years, late news viewership dropped almost 10%. Fox seemed to bear the brunt of the late news losses, as its 10 p.m. newscasts slipped nearly 5% from 2009 to 2010 in May, July and November.

Stations outside the Big Four affiliations fared better, reported PEJ, with their viewership dropping 0.8% from November 2009 to November 2010.

Morning news, seen by so many in local TV as a giant growth channel, lost 1.3% of viewers last year, compared to 2009.

The study said local news contributes almost 45% of a station's revenue.

The less traditional news holes are growing. The number of households with a TV on at 4:30 a.m. doubled in the past five years, now standing at 16%. News at 7 p.m. is booming too. "Stations clearly are having some success with a strategy of pushing local news later to capture an audience that just isn't home in time for the traditional early evening newscast," said the study. "These newscasts have held on to a larger share of their audience than newscasts in other time slots."

Total revenue for stations in 2010 was $18.5 billion, according to BIA/Kelsey, up 17% from the dismal 2009. Driving that was around $2.2 billion in political; 73% of the political spend went to TV stations, reported Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Retransmission is helping make up for the lost viewership too. The study says over $1.2 billion will be paid to air local TV signals in 2011, the total climbing to over $1.5 billion next year, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.