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Pew Study: Fewer Viewers Watched Local News in 2015

After a two-year reprieve, local TV lost news viewers in 2015, during which network news audiences held close to steady.

The Pew Research Center’s annual State of the News Media, released Wednesday, found Big Four affiliates lost news viewers in all three key timeslots – morning, early evening and latenight – as well as some of the nontraditional times that had been seeing growth.

“The question of local TV’s future in a digital era has not gone anyway, as the industry remains strategically focused on its traditional viewing platform, where its core audience is largely still found,” the report said.

Late night took the biggest hit for the second year in a row, with the average viewership down 5%. The late night audience has dropped by 22% since 2007, according to Pew.

Morning and early evening audiences were down 2% in 2015 from the year before. Midday and 7 p.m. or the equivalent – i.e. after network or early evening local news – news viewership dropped 5% after two years of growth.

Very early morning news, which has seen strong growth over the seven years it’s been tracked, saw an uptick in audiences of just 2% in 2015, Pew found.

On the financial front, affiliates’ over-the-air ad revenue dropped 7% from 2014, which is largely expected in a non-election year, the report said. The country’s 833 English-language news-producing stations took in $15.8 billion in over-the-air ad money, 85% of the $18.6 billion industry total. Online revenue grew 12% to $900 million, roughly 5% of total ad intake.

Network news programming, however, fared somewhat better, depending on the timeslot and format, the study found.

The combined viewership for the Big Three’s evening newscast remained stable, up 1% to nearly 24 million after strong growth the last two years. Pew credits that largely to ABC and CBS, which made substantial gains in January and February 2015 with major news events including the Charlie Hebdo attack and Boston Marathon bombings jury selection.

NBC Nightly News was the only evening newscast that lost viewers in 2015. The 4% loss coincided with Brian Williams’ departure. ABC World News and CBS Evening News viewership rose 4%.

Sunday morning political shows also grew in 2015, with the combined viewership for CBS’ Face the Nation, ABC’s This Week and NBC’s Meet the Press together drawing an average of 9.3 million people, an 8% increase from the previous year, the study reported.

Morning news viewership, however, dropped 2%. And magazine shows’ – 60 Minutes, 48 Hours, 20/20, Nightline, and Dateline Friday and Sunday – audiences dipped 5% from 2014, the study found.

Meanwhile, evening newscasts made more money than they did in 2014, Pew found. The 6% growth experienced during the first three quarters of 2015 brings to 12% the total increase since 2012.

The networks also saw a 14% growth for the morning news programs from the previous year, bringing the total advertising revenue to an estimated $809 million dollars for the period of January-September 2015. Over the past three years, morning news programs have generated 12% more in revenue.

(Photo via Pictures of Money's FlickrImage taken on Sept. 17, 2015 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)