Coronavirus coverage captures casual and diverse viewers
The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented event for most Americans, generating widespread concern on a local, national, and global scale. In just a manner of days the effects of the virus changed all facets of normal life, closing schools, leaving millions of people unemployed, and sending many into isolation, working and learning from home
It’s no surprise that television viewing has seen a dramatic increase as a result, especially local newscasts. As small towns and major metropolitan areas shut down, local newscasts have become the lifeblood of information in a time where significant updates happen almost hourly. Whether it’s for breaking news, insight into tragedy, or even a glimmer of solace from a heartwarming story, dedicated and casual viewers alike are flocking to their local newscasts in droves.
As seen with crisis-level events like natural disasters and the 9/11 attacks, millions of non-news viewers are glued to local news outlets to hear the latest. It’s this large group of casual and new viewers that has boosted ratings for local stations. But who are these new viewers and what demographic populations do they represent?
We will look at viewing trends for the week of March 16, 2020, compared to the same week a year prior. We’ll also compare the week of March 16, 2020 to the week of March 9, 2020, when we began to see an uptick in cases, stay-at-home orders, and cancelled live events. With updated demographic data available, we will analyze local news viewing for households by age/gender, ethnicity, and income levels in the top 25 television markets for the weeks stated above.Are viewing increases standard across the board or do specific populations deviate from overall viewing trends?
Across all households in the top 25 markets, we saw a 13 percent increase in viewing from the week of March 9, 2020 compared to the week of March 16, 2020 and a 33 percent increase from the week of March 18 in the previous year.
Viewing Trends by Age
Looking first at households with adults ages 50+, these homes saw increases in viewership compared to both weeks — a 12 percent viewing increase from the week of March 9, 2020 to March 16, 2020 and a 29 percent increase over the previous year’s week of March 18, 2019.
Surprisingly, the largest increases were seen in households with adults 18-34 years of age. This group showed a 15 percent week-over-week increase compared to 14 percent for households with adults ages 35-54. Households with adults ages 18-34 also showed the largest increase in viewership from the same week in 2019.
Viewing Trends by Yearly Household Income Level
It’s also important to consider the economic influences on television viewing. With most states banning large public groups and ordering all non-essential workers to stay at home, thousands of restaurants, bars, schools and retail establishments have closed. Because of this, millions of people filed for unemployment between the weeks of March 9 and March 16, 2020.
Across the top 25 markets, we examined viewership among households in three income groups: $0-$74,999 yearly household income, $75,000-$99,999 yearly household income and $100,000+ yearly household income.
The increase from the week of March 9, 2020 is modest, which is likely due to increasing awareness of the spread of the novel coronavirus beginning in late February. The year-over-year increase is significantly more dramatic.
Local news viewership jumped significantly from the same week in 2019, especially among middle-earning households in the $75,000-$99,999 yearly income range, which saw a 50 percent increase in viewership.
Looking at overall increase in average audience rather than the percentage increase, we find that local news viewing in the top 25 markets increased by well over a million households making between $0 and $100,000 each year compared to this time in 2019. The $75k-$100k income group constitutes the smallest population of these three income breaks, only making up about 15 million households nationally, which is why we see the largest percentage increase among the other income breaks, yet the smallest gross increase. However, these households were likely among those most impacted by stay-at-home mandates and the closure of non-essential businesses.
Looking at individual communities, Seattle and New York showed lower than average week-over-week increases than the national average when comparing the week of March 16, 2020 to the week of March 9, 2020. This is understandable as these regions were hit early and hardest by the coronavirus. During the week of March 16, 2020, viewing increases were most dramatic in San Francisco, Dallas, and other Midwest metropolitan areas.
Viewing Trends by Ethnicity
Changes in television viewership during the coronavirus pandemic can also be observed among Hispanic and Asian-American households.
The increases noted above were even higher when looking at the week of March 16, 2020 compared to the previous year. Viewing among Hispanic households is up 40 percent while viewing in Asian households increased 62 percent.
Compared to the same week in 2019, there are an average of around two million more households tuned in to local newscasts in the top 25 television markets. Nearly half a million of these new viewing homes are Hispanic households.
Reports of a disturbing rise in coronavirus-related hate crimes towards Asians made headlines across the nation during this time and local news viewing within Asian households increased dramatically week-over-week in markets with large and small Asian populations.
American households are generally watching more and more local news, but the data shows us that there are variations across different ethnic groups. As the virus spreads from the coasts to the Midwest, we may see these bursts in overall viewing continue in these markets as well. With a larger African-American population in the southern and midwestern states, we will see if viewing spikes or if viewership will continue to increase gradually.
We will continue to monitor the data to see if viewing continues to also rise nationally or if there will be a tipping point where viewing begins to decrease as Americans become acclimated to this new reality.
All data is preliminary through 3/22/2020.