Politics

Trends and Facts on Public Broadcasting | State of the News Media

MORE FACT SHEETS: STATE OF THE NEWS MEDIA

Hundreds of local and regional radio and television stations comprise the U.S. public media system. On the radio side, organizations such as NPR, American Public Media (APM) and Public Radio International (PRI), which merged with PRX in 2018, produce and distribute programming, reaching audiences through local stations as well as digital channels. Individual stations, such as New York’s WNYC and Chicago’s WBEZ, produce nationally syndicated original journalism as well. On the television side, PBS NewsHour produces an evening newscast that airs on local PBS stations around the country. The organization has a digital operation as well. On the whole, the news offerings of U.S. public broadcasters have been marked by relative financial stability and, in the past year, little to no audience growth. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about public broadcasting below.

Audience

The top 20 NPR-affiliated public radio stations (by listenership) had on average a total weekly listenership of about 11 million in 2018, about the same as in 2017. (This includes listeners of NPR programming as well as original or other syndicated content aired on these stations.)

Weekly broadcast audience for top 20 NPR-affiliated radio stations

Year Listenership
2015 8,724,100
2016 10,212,600
2017 11,210,500
2018 11,047,900

Pew Research Center

When looking specifically at NPR programming across all stations that carry it, terrestrial broadcast listenership declined somewhat between 2017 and 2018. (Traditional radio listening is “terrestrial,” i.e., coming from radio broadcast towers rather than satellites or the internet.) About 28.5 million average weekly listeners tuned in to NPR programming during the year, down from 30.1 million in 2017, according to internal data provided by the organization.

Programming from PRI, which distributes programs such as The World and The Takeaway, reached a terrestrial audience of about 9.7 million on average per week, up from about 8.8 million in 2017. (PRI and PRX merged in August 2018, but the data presented in this fact sheet is for PRI programs only.) Audience figures from APM, which produces Marketplace, remained stable at 20.1 million average weekly listeners in 2018, on par with 20.5 million in 2017.

Weekly broadcast audience of NPR, PRI and APM

  • National Public Radio
    (NPR)
  • Public Radio International
    (PRI)
  • American Public Media
    (APM)

NPR’s broadcasting reach remained stable between 2017 and 2018 in terms of both the number of member stations (stations either owned or operated by member organizations) and the number of stations airing any NPR programming (which includes member stations). The number of member organizations – flagship educational and community organizations that operate at least one station – stood at 263, on par with the previous year.

Broadcasting reach of NPR

  • NPR stations
  • NPR member organizations

For both PRI and APM, the number of stations airing their programming remained more or less stable between 2017 and 2018.

Broadcasting reach of PRI and APM

  • PRI stations
  • APM stations

NPR’s digital platforms continue to be an important part of its reach. The NPR One app, which offers a stream of individual shows and podcasts, had a similar or slightly higher average number of total completed sessions in 2018 as in 2017, depending upon the device. (A completed session is any instance in which a user starts and stops using the app.) The NPR News app, which offers livestreams from individual stations and digital content, declined in completed sessions among Android and iPad users. (Data for the NPR News iPhone app is unavailable for 2018.)

Monthly sessions on NPR apps

 App 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
NPR News: Android 2,913,814 3,613,494 5,005,041 8,242,722 6,756,099
NPR News: iPhone 6,947,956 7,826,679 11,433,558 14,502,478
NPR News: iPad 2,734,069 1,610,358 1,630,880 1,488,862 1,248,160
NPR One: Android 460,263 1,326,320 2,396,494 2,984,181
NPR One: iPhone 758,531 2,649,326 4,462,950 4,506,901

Pew Research Center

The audience for public television programming declined over the past year: In 2018, the NewsHour program, which airs on PBS, attracted 1.1 million viewers on average, down 6% from the year before.

PBS NewsHour viewership

Year Total average viewership
2016 1,007,000
2017 1,187,000
2018 1,110,000

Pew Research Center

Economics

The financial picture for news outlets in public broadcasting appeared strong both locally and nationally.

At the national level, NPR increased its total operating revenue in 2018 to $252.1 million, up 8% from 2017 levels. PRI gained as well, rising 4% to about $18.8 million in total revenue for 2018. (PRI and PRX merged in 2018, but the data presented in this fact sheet is for PRI programs only.) APM’s total revenue, on the other hand, fell 20% year over year, amounting to $134.7 million in 2018. (According to APM, a change in accounting practices caused a one-time reduction in revenue recorded in 2018, and these revenues should substantially recover in 2019.)

Total revenue for NPR, PRI and APM

At the local public radio level, an analysis of the public filings provided by 123 of the largest news-oriented licensees (organizations that operate local public radio stations) shows that in 2017 – the last year for which reliable data is available – total revenue for this group was $904.7 million.

Local public radio station revenue

Year Total revenue
2008 $672,802,561
2009 $643,940,194
2010 $686,136,170
2011 $749,103,474
2012 $748,813,191
2013 $782,737,012
2014 $828,887,471
2015 $816,934,539
2016 $852,897,571
2017 $904,711,768

Pew Research Center

This revenue for local public radio comes from a range of streams, but individual giving (which includes member revenue and major gifts) and underwriting (from businesses and foundations as well as other nonprofit organizations) are two key sources of funding. Among the 123 news-oriented licensees studied here, individual giving and underwriting accounted for a combined $595.5 million in revenue in 2017.

Individual giving and underwriting revenue for local public radio news stations

Year Individual giving Underwriting
2008 $252,188,412 $191,368,970
2009 $266,879,214 $169,783,646
2010 $273,641,191 $169,662,827
2011 $297,404,887 $170,980,687
2012 $301,896,974 $183,138,683
2013 $316,851,081 $183,378,779
2014 $329,574,209 $195,853,661
2015 $352,159,144 $204,335,864
2016 $362,070,403 $209,451,245
2017 $383,819,720 $211,637,752

Pew Research Center

The total number of individual members – defined as anyone who has given money to one of the stations owned by these 123 licensees in each calendar year – in 2017 was 2.3 million, about a 10% increase over the previous year.

Local public radio station membership

Year Total membership
2008 1,665,924
2009 1,743,232
2010 1,790,393
2011 1,940,486
2012 1,956,201
2013 2,016,449
2014 2,103,547
2015 2,046,745
2016 2,087,018
2017 2,292,509

Pew Research Center

On the television side, NewsHour derives its revenue from a variety of sources, including PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and a mix of “nonpublic” streams such as corporations, individual giving and foundations. While the details about public sources of revenue were unavailable for this analysis, NewsHour did provide information about its breakdown of nonpublic funding. In 2018, contributions from individuals comprised 13% of total nonpublic funding. (Information on whether the total amount of this funding rose or fell was also unavailable.)

PBS NewsHour nonpublic funding makeup

Year Individuals Corporations Foundations
2014 3% 41% 56%
2015 6% 23% 71%
2016 11% 19% 70%
2017 13% 17% 70%
2018 13% 17% 70%

Pew Research Center

Newsroom investment

Program and production expenses for the 123 news-oriented local public radio licensees was $446.8 million in 2017, compared with $439.6 million in 2016. While program and production expenses comprise only a portion of overall station expenses, an increase in these kinds of expenditures indicates that the stations are directing more dollars toward the creation of news content.

Local public radio station expenses

Year Total program and production expenses
2008 $327,421,171
2009 $339,869,569
2010 $343,679,417
2011 $363,060,881
2012 $374,386,544
2013 $375,165,424
2014 $396,766,427
2015 $415,016,962
2016 $439,623,671
2017 $446,778,558

Pew Research Center

Find out more

This fact sheet was compiled by Senior Writer/Editor Elizabeth Grieco.

Read the methodology.

Find more in-depth explorations of public broadcasting by following the link below:


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