TV Watching Is in Decline, But News Consumption Is Booming

The election of Donald Trump as president may be having a questionable effect on the economic and political outlook for the U.S., but it has been a considerable shot in the arm for the TV news business, according to new numbers from Nielsen.

Adults over 18 watched over 27 billion minutes of national cable-TV news programming per week last year. That’s almost 45% more than they watched in 2015, according to Nielsen’s latest Total Audience Report, which looks at consumption patterns for cable as well as smartphones and desktop computers.

While cable TV saw the largest jump, Nielsen said that news consumption across all media — including radio, traditional broadcast TV and smartphones — rose by 18% compared with a year earlier, to 73.5 billion minutes per week.

Adult news consumers spent close to 6.5 hours a week watching national cable TV news last year, the report found. That’s an increase of almost an hour and a half from the previous year, and almost two hours more than they watched during the last presidential election cycle in 2012.

The election campaign boosted news consumption significantly, the firm said, along with other major news events such as the “Brexit” vote in the UK, the war in Syria, the Zika virus and a number of terrorist attacks and news about refugees.

Nielsen also looked at how news consumption is trending in 2017. “Spoiler alert: the year is starting with even more news viewing/listening/reading than the 2016 average,” said Glenn Enoch, senior VP of audience insights at Nielsen.

For the month of January, the average U.S. viewer spent two hours and 11 minutes watching national cable news every week, Nielsen said. That’s an increase of about 20 minutes from the average consumption period for last year.

Last week, Fox News and CNN both reported their highest viewership numbers in over a decade. Fox in particular had the best performance of any 24-hour cable news network ever, and even beat out regular cable networks such as ESPN.

The Nielsen report also notes, however, that cable-TV news is still overwhelmingly dominated by older audiences. For people over 50 years of age, cable TV news makes up more than 11.5% of their TV viewing, but it only accounts for about 2.5% of the TV watching of those between 18 and 35.

And while news consumption got a boost from the election, the Nielsen figures show that cable TV watching as a whole is still in decline. People spent an average of 142 hours and 35 minutes every month watching live TV as well as recorded or time-shifted TV in the fourth quarter of last year, Nielsen said.

That number is about five hours less than the firm’s audience numbers from the previous year. Older audiences between 50 and 64 watched almost 193 hours of TV a month, more than twice the amount watched by those between 18 and 24.

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