December 22, 2023

The US continues to see declines in traditional news media.

Trend Analysis
Szymon Karbowski
The US continues to see declines in traditional news media.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that a declining number of US adults no longer follow the news closely or are not interested in the news at all. The number of people using the older type media, i.e. local TV, most newspapers and radio, has fallen sharply. There is, of course, a growing audience for podcasts, for newer platforms and for a few specific brands.

The Pew Research Center has long tracked trends in the news industry. It studies consumer news habits and analyzes the state of the news media. During the research, they analyzed the industry from a number of angles, looking not only at audience size, but also at the revenues of individual media groups and other indicators.

According to projections based on data from the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), paper newspaper circulation nationwide will be less than 21 million in 2022. Five years earlier, the US published over 30 million daily newspapers. Weekday newspaper circulations have fallen by 8% compared to 2021, and by as much as 32% compared to the last five years. 

It is important to remember that the AAM data does not include the total digital circulation of the three most important newspapers in the country: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. But subscriptions to the print editions of these three major titles have also fallen sharply. 

In contrast, the number of subscriptions to digital versions of daily newspapers is on the rise. The New York Times, for example, saw its subscriber base grow by 32% to more than 10 million in 2022, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). However, it is not possible to reconcile data from the AAM report with data reported to the SEC and the Securities Commission because these data do not include digital news subscriptions. Sometimes subscribers subscribe to lifestyle, games or business editions. 

These three brands buck the general market trend, which shows that overall traffic to news portals is declining. The average monthly unique users of the top 50 newspapers in the US fell by 20% to less than 9 million in the last quarter of 2022. A year earlier, it had been more than 11 million for the same period. The length of the average visit to portals is also shorter (only 1.5 minutes in the last quarter of 2022). 

According to Comscore research, the average monthly unique visitor to the websites of The New York Times, Fox News, CNN or Axios in the last quarter of 2022 was 3% lower than in the same period of 2021 and 16% lower than in previous years. 

In recent years, the percentage of Americans who listen to news on terrestrial radio stations has also declined. However, interest in podcasts and other online audio recordings has risen sharply. Surprisingly, although podcasts rarely report information or their authors comment selectively on 'hot topics', around ⅔ of podcast listeners listen to the information discussed in them.

And now let's move on to the ratings of local TV news programmes, which have also been on a massive decline over the past few years. Not only morning shows, but also evening (in prime time) and night shows are less popular. In 2022, the average audience for the evening news broadcast on CBS, ABC, FOX or NBC was just over 3 million viewers. This is a decrease of 25% in comparison to the 2016 audience figures. Where more than 4 million people watched the evening news on these channels. Even so, the evening news programmes continue to be watched more frequently by viewers than the morning news programmes. 

Cable and network news, however, show a more varied picture. Following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, prime time and daytime audiences for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC increased before declining in 2021. In 2022, Fox News's audience was back on the rise, while the other two channels' audiences were on the decline.

Audiences for news programmes on NBC, ABC and CBS have remained stable in recent years, with some variation by time slot. 

A decline in audiences does not necessarily mean a decline in revenues, and some industries have fared better than others. The publishing industry and network TV have seen a decline in advertising revenues. On the other hand, local television and its revenues were similar to those in election years, when the media benefited and earned a lot from election advertising. 

Newspaper advertising revenues continue to decline. This trend has been steady over the past few years. The structure of newspaper advertising revenue sources has also changed. In 2022, 48% of advertising revenue in this medium came from the digital editions of newspapers, while in 2019, only 19% of advertising revenue came from the online editions of newspapers. 

For local TV, advertising revenues have remained stable overall, driven by growth in digital advertising and steady political advertising revenues during election years. Political advertising around election campaigns has grown over the past decade from about $600 million in the 2012 US presidential election year to about $1.9 billion in the 2022 midterm elections.  Local television stations have seen a significant increase in revenues from retransmission fees paid by cable and satellite systems to carry local channels. Revenue for local public radio stations increased from about $1.1 billion in 2020 to about $1.2 billion in 2021. In particular, NPR's revenues will increase by 8% between 2021 and 2022.

The trends in cable TV news revenues vary from channel to channel. Among the three major news networks, Fox News leads in both total revenue and net advertising revenue, which will increase between 2020 and 2022, while both CNN and MSNBC will see slight declines over the same period. 

In terms of advertising revenue for news programmes, CBS, ABC and NBC all show declines for both evening and morning programmes.

#SzymonKarbowski #StreamVX #TraditionalNewsMedia #localTV #newspapers #radio

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