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News / Clark County News

From The Newsroom: TV, radio do well in Washington

By Craig Brown, Columbian Editor
Published: March 23, 2024, 6:05am

As I’ve told you a number of times, newspaper readership is down and online news readership is up. That’s true all around the country; we see it reflected at The Columbian, where our digital-only subscribers now outnumber our print subscribers.

It’s also true that more Americans get their news from television than any other source. But what, exactly, is going on with trends in broadcasting?

When a report from the Washington State Association of Broadcasters recently appeared in my email, I read it with considerable interest.

The association contracted with a company called Smith Geiger to perform the survey of media trends in Washington. It found that local AM/FM radio and local TV stations remained the most listened to and viewed video platforms in the state. Here are some specifics:

  • Washingtonians on average listen to over-the-air radio more than five hours a day, 34 percent more than they listen to subscription audio or podcasts. About 77 percent say they listen to radio, with 63 percent listening in their cars. What surprised me is that 23 percent said they listen to radio on their smartphones, which is something I have never done. Maybe that is why the study showed engagement with local AM/FM stations is increasing.
  • Washingtonians also report watching an average of 4½ hours of local television every day, when you include the broadcasters’ digital and social channels.
  • Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said it was important to support local journalists. (No quibbles with me here.) Almost 60 percent seek out political news and information each week, but how they do it varies according to their age. Adults 55 and older primarily depend on national TV news and local TV for political news, whereas those 18-34 lean toward social media channels not associated with local TV or radio.
  • Finally, the survey showed Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu are the leading subscription-based video services in our state, with many customers subscribing to more than one of these streaming services. YouTube, Facebook and Instagram emerge as the top social media channels, with about 80 percent of residents looking at YouTube at least weekly.

Of course, there is a big caveat: This study is of the Washington media market, while Clark County is firmly in the grip of the Portland media market. But I am guessing that our media habits are pretty similar. For one reason, the programming is similar across all markets because, just like in newspapers, a few large chains dominate ownership of broadcast media.

A national perspective

Although the survey provides a good snapshot of what is going on in Washington, I wanted to see what the national trend was, so I turned to Pew Charitable Trust, which funds research into mass media consumption. Pew’s most recent State of the News Media report, released in September, showed that viewership for local affiliate news stations was steady in 2022. The exception was for late night, where viewership declined 7 percent.

These local stations still rely heavily on over-the-air advertising, which reached $20.5 billion in 2022, up 27 percent over the previous year. TV stations follow a weird cycle where they are flush with political advertising revenue in partisan election years, like 2024, and then it mostly goes away the following year. And TV stations are still ratcheting up the retransmission fees paid to them by cable and satellite TV providers who want to carry their channels. These fees totaled $14.1 billion in 2021, compared with $11.5 billion in 2019.

Local broadcasters have their challenges, I am sure. But compared with U.S. newspapers, which are closing at the rate of two per week, broadcasters’ situation looks rosy to me.