- March 31, 2020

America’s Workforce is Tuning In to Daytime and Early Fringe Local Newscasts During Self-Isolation

Mandy Leef
Mandy Leef
Senior Director, Account Management

It’s amazing how quickly life can change in a matter of weeks. With communities, cities and even entire states shutting down all non-essential businesses and requesting that people stay in their homes, our lifestyles are changing, and with it, our TV viewing habits. Just a couple of weeks into quarantines and social distancing, we’re already seeing sweeping trends in local TV consumption that are uncharacteristic for this time of year.

As a resident of Hoboken, NJ and a New York City commuter, I am not surprised that some of the largest viewership increases over the past couple of weeks are happening during the daytime and early fringe dayparts. In the New York market, which is a current hot spot for the COVID-19 outbreak, an enormous part of the workforce is suddenly working from home or temporarily out of a job. We are all doing our part to flatten the curve, and that is having a drastic impact on our TV viewing. We no longer have to contend with commutes to the office or getting kids to daycare or school in the morning, which allows us to stay tuned into morning television. We’re also home all day with instructions not to leave our homes unless necessary. As a result, people are tuning in more throughout the day when they normally would have been at the office.

Looking at live ratings in a sampling of top 25 markets—in this case, New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Sacramento and Indianapolis—shows just how prevalent daytime TV viewership has become. When looking at the data year-over-year (YOY), we see increases in viewership throughout the early morning and daytime dayparts. For example, when looking at the average of these five markets, we find that viewing levels are almost 10 percent higher at 6 a.m. this year versus last year and continue to see that growth continue this year as the day progresses. At this time last year, viewership levels would peak and plateau around 8 a.m. and stay flat until the early fringe daypart. This is a typical viewing pattern, historically. This year, though, we find that viewing levels continue to grow until noon, at which time they peak and plateau until the early fringe. This tells us that there are more viewers in play earlier in the day – what does that mean for content and news promotions strategies or the role of producing newscasts during this time period?

TV Viewing levels per hour in Local Markets

Let’s now take a look at hour-by-hour growth in viewing levels; for example, from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., viewing levels rose 33 percent last year and 28 percent this year. Where the split between this year and last year is most prominent, though, begins with the hour from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., where viewership grew 20 percent this year versus 9 percent last year. You can clearly see the impact of no school and a large majority of people working from home.

TV Viewing growth in local markets

We still see similar trends when comparing the week of March 16, 2020 to the same week in February 2020 — which had the benefit of a holiday (Presidents’ Day) and the Daytona 500 running on a Monday. Viewership levels are closer in the morning month-to-month but again grow all the way through noon.

TV Viewing levels at hourly rate

TV Viewing levels growth hour-by-hour

Viewership isn’t changing just in large markets. These trends are taking place locally across the country as communities large and small work to confine themselves at home in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. For instance, in Wilkes Barre-Scranton-Hazleton, we’re seeing, on average, over 30 percent increases YOY for local newscasts during the daytime, early fringe, prime access and late news time periods, with one station’s 11 a.m. local news up by 70 percent and their 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts up by roughly 50 percent. In this market, early morning newscasts are, on average, basically flat. With much of America hitting the snooze button in the mornings, this data brings into sharp focus where the opportunities for stations may lie to bring their hardest-hitting updates.

Next week, we will cover the changes we are seeing in the composition of these audiences.

To learn more about Comscore local television measurement, contact us.

All data is preliminary after March 13.

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