Pew Research Center has turned up with some unpleasant numbers.
A late October study from the fact tank compares the coronavirus hits that the newspaper and TV news industries have taken
Newspaper companies have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, Pew says.
Among the six publicly traded newspaper companies studied — Gannett, New York Times, Tribune, McClatchy, Lee and Belo — major chains that own over 300 daily papers, advertising revenue fell by a median of 42% year over year (i.e., comparing the second quarter of 2020 with the second quarter of 2019).
By contrast, total ad revenue across the three major cable news networks was steady overall, but there were sharp differences between the networks: While ad revenue for MSNBC and CNN declined by double digits, Fox News Channel’s revenue rose by 41%.
Ad revenue for the five local TV news companies studied (which together own or operate at least 600 individual stations) was also down in the second quarter of this year, but increases in retransmission fees more than made up for this.
Meanwhile, ad revenue for nightly network TV news at the three broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) increased over the same period, as audiences have been turning to TV in record numbers for news about the outbreak.
Total network nightly news ad revenue rose 11% year over year as of the second quarter this year, outpacing its performance in the comparable presidential election years of 2016 (up 5% year over year) and 2012 (up 5%). This is driven by ABC’s 21% rise, though CBS (3%) and NBC (7%) also rose.
Among the report’s other key findings:
• Digital ads, a newer source of revenue for the newspaper industry, offered little relief in the early days of the pandemic. Digital ad revenue fell by a median of 32% between the second quarters of 2019 and 2020, even though digital ads reach not only digital subscribers, but visitors to the free offerings on a newspaper’s website as well.
• Newspaper circulation revenue, which had been steady in recent years, also declined in the second quarter of 2020, by a median of 8%. As a result, three of the six newspaper companies studied now have more revenue coming from circulation than from ads.
• In percentage terms, newspaper companies that reported revenue in both periods seemed to fare worse financially in the second quarter of 2020 than they did during the Great Recession of 2007–2009. Ad revenue for newspaper companies also dipped sharply during the Great Recession, with median declines of 11% and 30%, respectively, in the second quarters of 2008 and 2009 among these companies. Still, this does not match the dramatic year-over-year median fall of 42% in 2020. And circulation revenue was roughly steady in 2008 and 2009, compared with the 8% median year-over-year decline in the second quarter of 2020.
• As revenue fell, newspaper companies cut labor expenses. Of the four newspaper companies that reported compensation expenses in the second quarter of 2020, all showed a double-digit percentage decline year over year, with a median decline across the four of 20 percentage points. For most of these companies, labor expenses have been falling steadily over the past decade or more, reflecting the 51% decline in newspaper newsroom jobs between 2008 and 2019.
Material courtesy of Pew’s report “Coronavirus-Driven Downturn Hits Newspapers Hard as TV News Thrives”