As TV audiences turn to mass news networks, a dive in viewer behavior in the first half of 2020

It’s no surprise that news broadcasts have become a programming destination and news source for tens of millions of Americans this year.

As you may recall, the year started with political news, including several presidential debates between Democratic nomination contestants; at the same time, there was President Trump’s impeachment trial in the US Senate, only the third in US history. In mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic began to spread and the stock market collapsed as millions of workers were put on leave or lost their jobs, setting unemployment records. Towards the end of May, the police assassination of George Floyd sparked a wave of protests.

Therefore, it is not surprising that in the second quarter of 2020, Fox News, MSNBC and CNN were the three Top rated cable networks both during prime time and during the whole day. In fact, in the second quarter, all three cable networks had their best-rated quarter in their history.

To provide additional information on when and where viewers watched TV news, VideoAmp, an advertising technology company, analyzed TV audiences using audience content recognition (ACR) data from a panel of 9 million smart TVs in all state markets -United.

For analysis, VideoAmp divided the first 23 weeks of the year into five date ranges based on current events. VideoAmp then measured the week-to-week changes in news broadcasts, using the entire 23 weeks as a benchmark average. The five date ranges were:

● Pre-quarantine: January 6 to March 8 (9 weeks)

● Early quarantine: March 9 to April 12 (5 weeks)

● Mid-quarantine: April 13 to May 3 (3 weeks)

● Late quarantine: May 4 May 24 (3 weeks)

● Events: May 25 to June 14 (3 weeks)

During the nine-week pre-quarantine period, which lasted until early March, total linear television ratings (cable and broadcast) started strong with the first two weeks (6 January and January 13) generating above the benchmark average of 5% and 1%, respectively. However, during the remaining seven weeks of the pre-quarantine period, viewing to linear television fell below average.

At the start of the pandemic period, as shelter-in-place took effect, linear TV tuning was at its highest level. It was around this time that live sporting events, cinemas and outlets were all closed and viewers quarantined from listening to news networks and other news content, seeking out the latest information on the coronavirus from scientists and government officials. Linear TV viewing ratings peaked in the weeks of March 16 (+ 10% above average), March 23 (+ 10%) and March 30 (+ 9%). The above-average odds continued for the next three weeks, at 7% to 8% above average.

According to VideoAmp analysis, linear television viewing started to decline from the week of April 27 (0%). Fixed ratings continued throughout the three-week late quarantine period, caused by a combination of viewer fatigue, warmer weather and the gradual reopening of some states. The drop in grades was temporary, however.

Viewing increased again with the death of George Floyd on May 25, which sparked protests in the United States and around the world. With news outlets providing full coverage of the protests, overall ratings soared 6% above average during the week of May 25. However, the rise in ratings was not as long lasting as the pandemic. By the week of June 8, scores had fallen 6% below the 23-week benchmark average.

The analysis also found that the three major 24-hour news networks had a peak audience. CNN benefited the most, with the biggest increase in audiences once the pandemic hit. Although CNN generally ranks third behind rival news channels, the 40-year-old cable network has for years been a destination channel for casual and light-hearted viewers during intense news and events. last minute. During the pandemic, CNN’s audience more than doubled.

Deepening the audiences

VideoAmp also segmented households into terciles based on time spent. Segments were created for light, medium and heavy viewers, with benchmark averages established for each group. Light news viewers average 33 minutes per week, average news viewers average 163 minutes per week, and strong news viewers average 700 minutes per week. As news fatigue arose, households took a breather and also plugged into other cable networks during the three-week protest period. Compared to the nine-week pre-quarantine period, heavy viewers also watched lower-rated niche cable networks, such as Great American Country (+ 100%), Country Music Television (+ 61%), WGN America (+ 48%) Destination America (+ 40%) and DIY Network (+ 38%). Among the news networks, only CNN (+ 48%) and CNBC (+ 10%) recorded a considerable increase.

Over the same three-week period, Light News viewers were, unsurprisingly, the most likely to watch news channels, with CNN (+ 419%), MSNBC (+ 283%), Fox News (+ 255%) and Fox Business (+ 155%) being the four biggest beneficiaries. Light news viewers also listened to many of the same niche cable networks that the heavy news watched: Great American Country (+ 99%), WGN America (+ 46%), DIY Network (+ 41%), Destination America ( + 38%) and CMT (+ 32%).

During the three-week protest period, VideoAmp also looked at heavy and light news listening by programming genre and compared it to listening before the pandemic. When not watching TV news, heavy viewers watched more game shows (+ 39%), hands-on shows (+ 26%), interviews (+ 23%), variety shows ( + 18%) and scientific programs (+ 14%). The most popular genres of programming for light news viewers were somewhat different, led by politics (+ 222%), news (+ 86%), game shows (+ 45%), talk shows ( + 31%) and variety shows (+ 27%).

Josh Chasin, Head of Measurability at VideoAmp, explains: “While there is a cohort of Americans who spend a lot of time – on average, almost 2 hours a day – on news shows, in times of crisis nationwide, even light news viewers flock to it. 24 hour news channels for the latest information. During the recent period of protests and civil unrest, viewers’ time of light news on CNN has increased fivefold, with MSNBC and Fox News nearly quadrupling. Obviously, linear television in general, and cable news in particular, remains a vital source of information for the American public when important and current news is broadcast. “

In all likelihood, in the second half of 2020, news channels will continue to be a source for millions of viewers. The pandemic continues to receive wide coverage. Additionally, there will be a controversial election, which means rallies, virtual rallies, three presidential debates, one vice-presidential debate, two conventions, maybe a few “October surprises”, followed by Election Day and of its suites. Millions of viewers will stay connected.

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