Study: Broadcast News Adds Viewers for First Time in 10 Years

Courtesy of CNN
CNN's Piers Morgan and Larry King

The Project for Excellence in Journalism's State of the Media report finds that CNN and MSNBC are also up while Fox News experienced slight declines for the second consecutive year.

In a reversal of a collective decade-long ratings slide, viewership at all three broadcast news divisions grew in 2011. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual State of the Media report, evening news viewership across ABC, CBS and NBC increased by nearly 1 million viewers to 22.5 million for an aggregate gain of 4.5 percent. And while evening newscast audiences are much grayer than those watching the networks’ entertainment programs, all three newscasts – ABC World News, NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News – added viewers in news’ target demographic of 25-54-year-olds. In the morning, where the broadcast news divisions pull in the lions share of their ad revenue, viewership was up 5.4 percent across ABC, CBS and NBC to 13.1 million viewers.

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A year of major news events – unrest in the Arab world, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the run-up to the 2012 presidential election – probably boosted tune-in at CNN and MSNBC. CNN posted the largest gains in primetime in 2011, up 16 percent to 654,000 viewers, while MSNBC was up 3 percent to 773,000 viewers. Fox News, with an average primetime audience that tops CNN and MSNBC combined, nevertheless was down in primetime and daytime for the second consecutive year.

On CNN Anderson Cooper 360, which moved to 8 p.m., and Piers Morgan Tonight at 9 p.m. posted year-over-year gains. MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show was up slightly while the 8 p.m. hour (which started 2011 with Keith Olbermann and then had Lawrence O’Donnell and now Ed Schultz in the time slot) finished 2011 down more than 10 percent to 925,000 viewers. Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, though the top-rated program on cable news, was down 7 percent to 2.9 million viewers.

In primetime, Fox News dipped 3 percent year-over-year for an average audience of 1.9 million; daytime was down 2 percent to 1.1 million. Still, Fox News celebrated ten consecutive years of cable news dominance in 2011. In the report, PEJ posited that some of the network’s “slight ratings decline can be attributed to [Fox News chairman and CEO Roger] Ailes’s attempts to rein in the tone at the channel, a move that helped push the highly successful 5 p.m. host, Glenn Beck, out the door.” Beck was averaging about 2 million viewers at 5 p.m., and the loss of that robust primetime lead-in “may have had the cascading effect of negatively impacting the programs that followed it,” said the report.

Meanwhile, HLN saw its ratings come back down to earth after the Casey Anthony and Conrad Murray trials. HLN finished 2011 flat year-over-year in daytime averaging 250,000 viewers, and was actually down 11 percent in primetime to 386,000 viewers.

Other highlights from PEJ’s Sate of the Media report:

* Fox News, the established revenue leader since 2009, experienced the most robust revenue growth in 2011, but not by much. The channel was projected to grow its revenue 9 percent [to $869.2 million], compared to CNN/HLN’s growth of 7 percent [$595.8 million] and MSNBC’s growth rate of 8 percent [to $186.6 million].

* Among the financial news channels, CNBC remained by far the leader in overall revenues and profits in 2011. Still, the Fox Business Network and Bloomberg TV grew financially at higher rates. Fox Business’s revenue grew by 27 percent and it cut its losses by $19 million. Bloomberg TV increased its revenues by 14 percent and its profits by 25 percent. CNBC increased revenues by 6 percent to $725 million, nearly double that of its sibling MSNBC. And those numbers only represent domestic revenues. Internationally, CNBC, like CNN, is a powerful news presence. CNBC World, CNBC’s international brand, was projected to generate $23.3 million in revenue in 2011, up fully 40 percent from 2010 levels.

* CNN is a leader among its rivals when it comes to tablet usage. In a survey question asking tablet users which sources they visit the most, 25 percent mentioned CNN, the most popular source among those users and twice the percentage that mentioned Fox News. The survey also asked heavy news consumers what new sources they turned to on their tablet computer that they had not turned to before. Again, twice and many named CNN (10 percent) as named Fox (5 percent), while just 2 percent named MNSBC.

* Social media are important but not overwhelming drivers of news, at least not yet. No more than 10% of digital news consumers follow news recommendations from Facebook or Twitter “very often.” That compares with more than a third, 36 percent, who very often go directly to news organizations on one of their devices, 32 percent who get news from search very often, and 29 percent who turn to some sort of news organizer site or app. Among just digital news consumers (excluding those who say they do not get news online), the percentage who get at least some news from one of these two leading social networks rises to 52 percent. But this still trails by a large margin other ways of getting news (92% go directly to news websites and 85 percent use search).


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