Study: Broadcasters Deliver Record Amount of Local News

RTDNA local news during the pandemic
(Image credit: RTDNA)

For the second year in a row, local TV stations produced a record amount of news in 2020 despite pandemic-related budget cuts and revenue shortfalls. Likely helping sustain that investment was the fact that, according to RTDNA, The Radio Television Digital News Association, at least in the early days of the pandemic the loss of TV station ad revenue did not exceed the gains in retransmission consent revenue.

A record 1,116 TV stations aired local news, up 18 from last year's record. Of those, 710 reported producing their own news, up five, four of them small independent broadcasters; 406 aired news, up 13 from 2019.

Coping With COVID

Coping With COVID (Image credit: RTDNA)

RTDNA said increases in weekday news accounted for the boost, offsetting a slight decrease in weekend news. More than a third of stations (34.5%) said they aired more news in 2020.

On network affiliates, news was up on all except Fox, with CBS affiliates most likely to have increased their news over 2019.

That increase in news output came despite the fact that almost a third of stations (29.3%) reported budget cuts in 2020, compared to only 9.1% in 2019, with most of those cuts coming in the top 50 markets.

Still three quarters (75.9%) of news directors who were privy to the bottom line reported a profit.

A majority of news directors (70%) said that they expected either long-term or permanent changes to be one of the inheritances of the pandemic. Those include fewer staffers using the newsroom as a home base, more remote meetings, and more virtual interviews.

Fully 80% of the news directors said that at least some staffers continued to work remotely.

The survey was conducted in fourth quarter 2020 among all 1,762 operating, non-satellite TV stations. Valid responses came from "as many as" 1,358 stations (77.1%). Some data sets (the number of TV stations originating local news, for example) are based on a complete census rather than projected from a sample, according to Pew.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.