The audience for network evening newscasts continued their
30-year decline in 2010, and cable news, while it has become the fourth most
popular platform for news, shows signs of having peaked.
That is according to a copy of the annual Project for
Excellence In Journalism State of the News Media Report, which was released
The audience for most network news programs continued to
slide, mostly by single digits, but revenues at all three news divisions grew
by about 6% thanks to the improved television advertising market. "While the
audience for network news continues to shrink, and those revenue gains are
smaller than in some other media," the study says, "the power of TV ads remains
Evening network newscasts saw a 3.4% loss in average
viewership from the year before; 21.6 million people watched one of the three
evening newscasts each night in 2010. That was an accelerated decline from the
past two years, a loss of 752,000 viewers in 2010 vs. 565,00 in 2009 and 273,000
But to put the numbers in perspective, the study points out
that four times as many people watch the three network evening newscasts than
watch the three cable news channels in primetime, and that twice as many people
watch the lowest-rated broadcast evening newscast than the highest-rated cable
Broken down by network, NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams lost the least in
average viewership in 2010, down 1.4% to 8.5 million. ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer fell 3.9% to 7.43
million and CBS Evening News With Katie Couric declined 5.5% to 5.65 million.
On the digital side, NBC leads the networks as well, as its Website MSNBC.com
has more traffic than the other two networks' combined. But ABC and CBS appear
to be moving more aggressively into mobile and social media, says the study. ABC News leads the
three networks in Facebook fans with 143,000, followed by CBS (107,000) and NBC
trails far behind with only 928. Though the study does note that some individual news programs
have more fans than the news divisions (NBC
Nightly News With Brian Williams has 39,000 Facebook fans). CBS News has
the most Twitter followers at 1.62 million, while ABC has 1.18 million, and NBC
again trails with only 76,000. Its CNBC and MSNBC feeds have more followers,
but still but don't match those of CBS and ABC.
It is a similar story on the cable news side, which saw
primetime viewership declines in 2010 but still managed to improve finances. Revenues
are projected to rise at all three cable news networks, Fox by 17%, CNN/HLN by
5% and by MSNBC 7%, according to market research firm SNL Kagan. All three
networks are also projected to expand their news investment budgets in 2010.
But despite the strong financial picture, the audience for
cable news may be leveling off. "The medium, which has become the fourth most
popular platform for news out of about a dozen in the United States, according
to Pew Research Center surveys, showed signs in 2010 of
having peaked," says the study.
Median primetime viewership at the three channels dropped 16% to 3.2 million,
according to Nielsen Media Research data, and all channels saw primetime
audience declines. CNN fared the worst, plunging 37% to 564,000 viewers, while Fox
fell 11% to 1.9 million, MSNBC fell 5% to 747,000 and HLN lost 17% to 434,000.
CNN does lead one benchmark though, cumulative audience, or
the number of viewers who tune into the channel for at least one hour a month.
CNN has a cumulative audience of 42 million just over Fox's 41 million and
MSNBC's 37 million, according to Nielsen Media Research data from the study.
And while cord-cutting fears failed to materialize in 2010,
the study sees the move into new digital platforms as more urgent for cable
news, as Web traffic fell last year at all three channels' sites, according to
one measuring firm.