Broadcast News Attracts the Biggest Audiences, but Viewers Spend More Time with Cable

onairTelevision is still the primary way Americans get news at home, with the largest audiences watching network and local news, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Nielsen data. But while the cable news audience is smaller, it’s also more engaged.

The study, based on Nielsen’s national panel of metered homes in February 2013, found that 71% of U.S. adults watch local news, 65% watch network news and 38% watch cable news in the course of a month. And on average, cable news audiences spend twice as much time watching news on that platform as local and network viewers spend on those sources.

This research found that the most engaged cable news viewers watch for more than an hour a day and that even the heaviest viewers of local and network news spend more time watching cable than those broadcast outlets.

“The robust level of engagement with cable news could help explain the extent to which it can influence the national debate, despite having a smaller audience,” said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project.

And in one finding that may seem counterintuitive, there is a substantial amount of crossover cable viewing. About one-third (34%) of the MSNBC audience also watches Fox News, while 28% of the Fox News audience watches MSNBC—despite the dramatic ideological differences. In addition, roughly half of Fox News and MSNBC viewers spend time watching CNN. These are among the findings in the study that compared in-home network and local television, cable and internet news consumption to examine how people get news across different platforms in a rapidly changing media environment. The data for this report were provided exclusively to the Pew Research Center by the Nielsen Company, the primary source of ratings and viewership information for the television industry.

Among the findings:

  • While the largest portion of Americans watch local and network TV news at home, those who tune into cable news do so for an average of 25 minutes a day. That is more than twice as much time as local and network TV viewers spend getting news on those platforms.
  • Across all three platforms, there is a large gap between the heaviest news consumers and everyone else. The top third of network news viewers in terms of time spent, for example, average almost 32 minutes a day watching network news. The next third spends about one-sixth as much time, or five minutes, watching network news.
  • There is no news junkie like a cable junkie. The most dedicated cable news viewers average about 72 minutes of home viewing a day. That compares with about 32 minutes for the heaviest network news viewers and 22 minutes for the most engaged local news audience. There is, however, a precipitous drop—to only three minutes a day—for the second most dedicated group of cable watchers.
  •  There is widespread news consumption across different platforms, particularly with broadcast news. Fully 90% of network news viewers also watch local news, and 82% of local news viewers also tune in to network news. The result is that more than half (58%) of U.S. adults watch both network and local news.

Read the report:

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. Its Journalism Project assesses the state of news and information in a changing society.