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Local News Viewership Stats: What They Mean for Advertisers

July 26th, 2019   ||    by Callie Wheeler

A closer look at local news viewership can arm advertisers with helpful information as they chase audiences across mediums. Starting with the most basic of stats⁠—only half of Americans get their news from the television, according to the Pew Research Center⁠—some may wonder who is actually watching.

And starting with the most basic of observations⁠—the endless prescription drug commercials⁠—you may think you know the answer. But there is more to the story, especially when we dig into the three different types of TV news available to today’s viewers.

Local TV News

Local news viewership ranks first out of viewers’ three options, with 37 percent of Americans relying on local television for their news. Even though viewership has declined, this is still the news medium that reaches the largest audience. The same Pew Research Center study shared who is watching:

  • Local TV reaches the largest group of nonwhite viewers, with 41 percent of nonwhite Americans tuning in.
  • Local news is nearly evenly split politically, with 36 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats watching.

Network and Cable TV News

Network news trails both cable and local TV news in nearly every category for viewership. Cable, on the other hand, has a few distinct stats:

  • Cable TV news reaches the highest percentage of Americans earning over $75,000 annually, with 30 percent watching.
  • Cable TV news reaches 58 percent of Americans 65 and older, just one percentage point above local television news.
  • Cable TV news reaches 28 percent of college-educated Americans, the highest percentage of the three types.

What Advertisers Can Learn

What does this mean for advertisers? If you want to reach the largest audience, go local. If you want to reach voters, go local.

Maybe you want to reach high-income earners or college-educated Americans. In that case, advertisers may want to prioritize cable TV news. But it’s worth noting that local TV news comes in at a very close second.

Ultimately, advertisers should be paying close attention to the makeup of these mediums’ audiences. While all are changing in an effort to keep up with their viewers’ preferences and tastes, there are other indications to clue you in on a good investment:

  • The Knight Foundation found local stations can use social media to drive viewership. Look for local news outlets with good social media presence and engagement.
  • The same study recommended a focus on local expertise, including education, community, and the economy. Local news affiliates that are engaging their local communities are better positioned to retain viewers.
  • Move advertising budget around based on events. Take this example from Deadline, where Trump’s re-election rally pushed Fox’s ratings through the roof.

By looking beyond the surface and doing a bit of homework, advertisers can get a higher ROI on news programming ad inventory. Consider discovering desirable local news programs through their online engagement, or creating a calendar for cable news ad spend based on the 2020 election. But above all, consider your audience: more than likely, they’re tuning in to at least one type of news.

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