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Network News: The Pace of Change Accelerates

By Emily Guskin and Tom Rosenstiel of PEJ

The year 2011 was one of marked transition and even some positive numbers for network news.

The audiences for most network newscasts grew, and the three network news divisions, which for decades were hard to tell apart except for the faces on air, began to distinguish themselves from one another in what they defined as news. ABC and CBS also saw their web traffic grow.

Some of this reflected changes in top management at the networks and on air. Some of it reflected the nature of the year in the news.

The year was also marked by financial changes at the PBS NewsHour.

Evening News Audiences

By the most concrete and financially significant measurement — total viewership — 2011 was a good year for network news programs.

In the evening, an average of 22.5 million people watched one of the three commercial broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS or NBC.

That is an increase of 972,700 viewers, or 4.5%, over the average viewership the year before, according to PEJ analysis of data from Nielsen Media Research.

Some of the growth, moreover, came from an unexpected source. All three evening newscasts added viewers in the much-coveted 25-to-54 age group, according to Deborah Potter, the director of the NewsLab, an online resource and training center for journalists (and co-author of the local news chapter of this report). “In fact, nearly a quarter of the growth in viewership in the second quarter came from that demographic,” Potter wrote in an analysis of the data.1


And viewership at all three network evening newscasts grew.

In 2011, according to Nielsen, an average of 8.75 million viewers watched the NBC Nightly News each night while 7.82 million watched ABC and 5.97 million watched CBS.

That growth was, at least to some degree, attributable to the news: 2011 saw the Arab Spring, the death of Osama bin Laden, the shooting in Tucson, a royal wedding in Britain and a tsunami in Japan, among other major events. Viewership grew for both cable and local news in 2011 as well. 

In the long erosion of network news audiences, however, there have been other upticks in the past — the end of the Cold War, the first Gulf War and the 9/11 attacks, all of which proved short-lived.

The broad trend is unmistakable. Since 1980, the three commercial evening newscasts have lost about 28.4 million viewers, or 54.5% of their audience.2


(See network data section for more on network evening news audiences in 2011, including information on the other two audience metrics, ratings and share.)

For all the losses, however, the network evening news remains an extraordinarily popular news source for Americans. More than four times as many people watched the three network evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC during the dinner hour than watched the highest-rated shows on the three cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) during prime time.3

And more than twice as many people watch the lowest-rated broadcast evening news program (CBS Evening News) than watch the highest-rated cable news program (The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News).

Growth varied among the networks. The audience leader, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, grew by the smallest margin. Average viewership for NBC grew by 250,500 viewers, or 2.9%, in 2011 to 8.75 million viewers.

ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer remained at the No. 2 spot in 2011, but the audience there grew by 398,200 viewers or 5.3% to 7.82 million. World News is narrowing its viewership gap with NBC.

And the show with the smallest audience of the three evening news programs, CBS Evening News, grew by the largest percentage, 5.8% or by 325,000 viewers to 5.97 million. Scott Pelley became the anchor of the program in June, replacing Katie Couric. Fairly quickly, viewers began sampling the new program. In August, for instance, his viewership figures were up 12.6% from Couric’s the year before. For the seven months Pelley anchored during the year, his ratings were up an average of 8% from the year before; Couric’s actually had begun to rise in the first five months of 2011 as well, but by half as much.

A year earlier, when audiences fell across the networks, NBC had seen the smallest declines. The upticks in 2011 thus suggest that some of the audience gains were people possibly trying network programs that they did not watch regularly before.

Morning News Audiences

Morning news audiences also grew in 2011, for the first time in seven years. Over all, 13.1 million people on average watched the three network morning news programs, up 5.4% from 12.4 million in 2010.


ABC’s Good Morning America saw the most growth. NBC’s Today Show also grew and CBS’ Early Show was flat.

Good Morning America’s average annual viewership grew to 4.8 million viewers. Its ratings also grew and its share grew to 13.2 in 2010. That means that more people watching TV during that time were tuned to ABC.

ABC also inched at times closer in viewership to NBC’s Today Show. During its mid-September season premiere week, GMA was only 397,000 viewers away from Today on average, much fewer than the 1.1 million people that separated the two shows on average that same week in 2010, according to Nielsen data cited by the Wall Street Journal.4

CBS’ Early Show, which was relaunched in January 2012 as CBS This Morning, was flat in 2011. Viewership grew marginally, 0.2% to 2.9 million viewers. Its ratings and share declined, but only by about 2%.

The most popular of the three network morning programs, NBC’s Today Show, had a mixed year. Viewership grew 3.2% to 5.4 million viewers, but its ratings stayed the same and share dropped.  That means that the total percentage of televisions tuned to the Today Show was the same, but fewer people who were watching TV at that time were watching Today.

The growth in news, both morning and evening, also stood in contrast to the trend in entertainment programming. All three broadcast networks lost viewers in prime time during the 2010-11 season compared to the year before. For example, NBC, with no Olympic programming, lost almost 14% of its prime time audience during the season. The network’s morning news program, however, gained viewers in that time period – about 10%, according to the analysis by Potter of NewsLab. “That’s a substantial swing, indicating that many viewers who flock to cable for entertainment at night are flipping to broadcast in the morning to watch the news,” she suggested.5

News Magazine Audiences

In contrast with their morning and evening news counterparts, the primetime news magazine programs that air in competition with broadcast entertainment programs saw audiences decline in 2011.

The most notable exception to that was ABC News’ Nightline, which airs after prime time (at 11:30 p.m. EST), and in 2011 actually bested its entertainment rivals, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno Show and the Late Show with David Letterman.

The other exception, though the gain was smaller, was the Sunday edition of NBC’s Dateline.


In 2011, Nightline’s audience grew 5.8% to 3.9 million. This marked the first time ever that Nightline won its timeslot for a full broadcast season over Letterman and Leno.  It also ranked first among adult viewers during the May sweeps period – beating the Tonight Show for the first time since 1995.6

The network’s other news magazine, 20/20, had the largest drop of the network news magazines over the year, however. Its viewership fell by 11.3% to 4.9 million.

The oldest news magazine on the air, and still by far the most popular, CBS’ 60 Minutes, saw only a slight decrease in viewership in 2011: down 0.78%. But 60 Minutes still averaged 11.6 million per week, making it the most popular news program in the U.S. yet again.

CBS’ other news magazine, 48 Hours Mystery, dropped 6.6% over the year to 5.4 million viewers.

Dateline NBC had mixed fortunes depending on its timeslot. The Friday edition decreased 5.2% to 5.7 million. But the Sunday edition, which aired January through August, averaged 4.7 million viewers, a 5.3% increase from the year before, although ratings decreased for that program, meaning the overall percentage of total households watching the program went down, despite the number of viewers increasing.


Determining the economic status of a network news division is difficult. Networks do not publicly break out financial data for their news divisions.

One indicator comes from market research firms that track the overall revenue of network television generally, beyond news. For 2011, those estimates are down. Market research firms Kantar Media and Veronis Suhler Stevenson forecast that network ad revenue would decrease between 4% and 6% in 2011 from the year before.7 VSS attributed the estimated decrease to a “tough comparison with the 2010 recovery,” including the absence of most political ads, a decline in automotive advertising revenue from Japanese manufacturers and no Olympics-based ad revenue.8

While advertising makes up about 87% of combined network revenue, according to VSS, the networks saw growth in the remaining slice of revenue. VSS estimated that revenue from the networks’ online and mobile platforms grew by 21% in 2011. And revenue from retransmission fees, or compensation from cable and satellite providers paid to broadcasters for the right to carry their programming, grew by 39%. That growth helps balance out the ad revenue losses, resulting in an estimated total network revenue decline. Including that growth into the total network revenue results in an overall decrease of just 0.6%, according to VSS.9

And there are some signs at least that some of the news divisions fared better than the networks over all. One is the increase in news audiences. Another is seen in statements in SEC filings from ABC and CBS that their total broadcast ad revenues were up. A third is that NBC News benefits from cable news revenues, which were up.

At ABC, several pieces of evidence suggest the network over all had a better year financially in 2011 than 2010, but getting there was complicated. First, the network cut programming and production costs by $69 million, according to SEC filings.10 Cost cuts came from news and daytime programming as well as airing less expensive prime-time programming. In the most recent quarter, ending Dec. 31, 2011, the company reported flat advertising revenues for the ABC network.

ABC also raised its advertising rates, which resulted in higher advertising revenues in the financial year ending October 2011, an increase of $99 million from the same period the year before, or 2.5%, to a total of $4.1 billion.11

Given the improved ratings in news, if revenue at ABC News grew in line with the rest of the broadcast arm of the company, or 2.5%, that would put news division revenues at about $650 million for 2011.

One timeslot to gain revenue was morning news. According to estimates from Kantar, even before 2011, ABC’s Good Morning America was on a financial upswing. The show took in $314 million from ads in 2010, up 6.3% from a year earlier, and that was before it narrowed the ratings gap with NBC’s Today Show in 2011.12

CBS, however, has some advantages. Of the three networks, CBS has both the largest prime time audience and came into the 2011-12 season with the highest volume of advertising revenue, according to estimates by The New York Times.13

But CBS took a $46 million restructuring charge to reorganize the company’s operations when it revamped its morning show, according to SEC filings and The New York Times. The corporation’s chief financial officer, Joseph Ianniello, told The Times that the company would recoup the costs in 12 to 18 months.14

Over all, CBS’ total revenue, beyond just news or advertising and including revenue from its cable channels, including Showtime, as well as its local TV and radio operations, book publishing and outdoor advertising, grew 1% in 2011, according to SEC filings. Its entertainment revenue, which includes income from CBS News, also saw a 1% increase to $7.46 billion for 2011.15 Some of this growth is likely due to the fact that while prime-time viewership went down for all three big networks, CBS was still the clear ratings winner. CBS also airs 60 Minutes, which is by far the highest-rated news magazine and often wins its timeslot on Sunday evenings.

If CBS News grew in line with the rest of the network, that would put revenue at about $430 million, against which any restructuring charges would be put.

NBC News has a broader and more complex revenue model than the other networks. It benefits from three cable news channels, MSNBC, CNBC and CNBC World, an international business channel. It can amortize the costs of its news division across more platforms, including

That helps NBC News escape the limitations of the broadcast revenue structure, which is mostly dependent on advertising. Cable channels earn revenue from both advertising and subscription fees. Therefore they can generate far more revenue per viewer than broadcast channels.

By our estimates, CNBC contributes more revenue to NBC News than any other unit, even though its audiences are much smaller than NBC’s network viewership.

The cable parts of NBC News are also highly profitable. SNL Kagan projects an operating profit at CNBC of $435.8 million in 2011, up 6.9%. MSNBC’s operating profit in 2011 was projected at $186.6 million, up 10.5%. CNBC World’s operating profit was estimated to increase 37% in 2011 to $13.7 million.16

The broadcast arm of NBC over all had a 7.1% decrease in revenue in 2011, including a significant decreases from the loss of revenue generated by the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, lower overall ratings in 2011 and local stations it owns taking in less political ad revenue, according to SEC filings.17

Although NBC’s primetime ratings slumped in 2011, its Nightly News and Today Show beat out the network competition and saw growth. Therefore, it is difficult to generalize from the NBC broadcast arm to NBC News.

PEJ estimates that if the broadcast news revenue at NBC News grew at a rate under those of its cable news divisions and better than its broadcast arm overall, by roughly 1%, that would amount to just under $860 million. NBC’s total news revenue then, combining both cable and broadcast would come to about $2 billion in 2011.

Thus for all the long-term decline in network news audiences, and the fact that the once-omnipresent network news magazines have lost ground to reality programming, the network news divisions nevertheless remain an essential part of the network’s identity. And at one network, NBC, the cross-platform model generates significant profit.

News Investment

Regardless of the different organizational and revenue structures, the staff sizes at all three network newsrooms are much smaller than in years past – less than half the size they were in the 1980s. But each network has managed those cuts differently.

ABC has indicated it is moving closer to a leaner model of newsgathering in which a significant number of people are engaged in so-called backpack journalism, in which one person serves as producer, correspondent and technical crew. NBC can afford more traditional multiperson teams. CBS has indicated that it is using a mix of approaches.

In 2011, each network went through personnel changes at top news positions.

All three evening news programs had new executive producers by the end of the year. At ABC World News, Michael Corn, a longtime producer for Good Morning America, took over as executive producer in September.  At CBS Evening News, Patricia Shevlin was named the executive producer in June, at the same time Pelley took over for Couric. And at NBC Nightly News, Patrick Burkey was named the executive producer in July.

All three networks had changes in some anchor personnel, too, and some important changes behind-the-scenes.


At NBC, Steve Capus is now the longest-serving broadcast network news division president. He has run NBC News since 2005.

On air, Meredith Vieira left the Today Show, after opting for a one-year contract in 2010. Ann Curry replaced her, joining Matt Lauer as co-host. Curry had been the news anchor on Today since 1997 as well as the anchor at Dateline NBC. Lester Holt, one of Dateline NBC’s correspondents, was named that show’s anchor.

NBC also introduced a new news magazine in October, Rock Center With Brian Williams. The show is hosted by the Nightly News anchor and its correspondents include Harry Smith, who joined NBC in 2011 after a 25-year career with CBS, and Kate Snow. The show’s ratings have not been as high as NBC hoped. Between three million and four million tune in to the show each week. These are good numbers for cable but weak for network programming. The executive producer is Rome Hartman, a long-time 60 Minutes producer who was Katie Couric’s first executive producer when she took over the CBS Evening News, and left CBS when attempts to recast the broadcast to fit her talents did not prove effective.


CBS News in 2011 got new leadership at the top, a new anchor, a new morning show and adopted a new approach to news that it promoted as more “hard news.”

At the top, Jeff Fager, the executive producer of 60 Minutes became the chairman of CBS News (a new position) in November and David Rhodes, who came from Bloomberg, had taken over as news division president in February.

The new CBS This Morning, which promotes putting “the news back in morning news,” premiered Jan. 9, 2012. Its new hosts, Charlie Rose and Gayle King, join Erica Hill, one of the few holdovers from The Early Show. The network laid off about two dozen staff members when it made the change, according to the New York Times.18

At the anchor desk for the CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley replaced Katie Couric. And the network also said goodbye to Harry Smith, who went to NBC. In September, 60 Minutes’ essayist Andy Rooney stepped down, shortly before he died.

In February 2012, CBS News brought back Person to Person, the interview program first hosted by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s. The interviewers for this iteration of the show are Charlie Rose and Lara Logan. Its first week on air, the show brought in about six million viewers, and came in third place in its timeslot.19


ABC News also saw some changes both in front of and behind the camera. Ben Sherwood took over as news president from David Westin in early 2011. And in December, the network announced that its choice for This Week anchor, Christiane Amanpour had not worked and that it was returning to her predecessor, George Stephanopoulos. Amanpour stayed on the network as a reporter in addition to anchoring a weekday program for CNN International.

Leaving CBS, Katie Couric signed a multiyear contract with ABC to host a non-news daytime talk show. In this role, Couric will be part of the news division at ABC but will not anchor any programs.

The network also shifted around its talent. Juju Chang left Good Morning America to join Nightline as a correspondent and fill-in anchor.

Click here for a more detailed list of staff changes at the networks.

News Content

Traditionally, the three broadcast networks have not have much variation in their selection of news stories and often opened with a similar report each evening.20 In the past year, the three nightly newscasts began to distinguish themselves from one another, a sign, perhaps, that the new managers at the networks had decided that in fighting over a shrinking pool of viewers, the best way to turn the tide was to differentiate themselves.

“The three evening newscasts have become more different from one another than at any time I can remember,” former NBC News executive Bill Wheatley told The New York Times.21

For example in 2011, CBS Evening News devoted more time to the two top stories than either of its main competitors: the economy (18%) and unrest in the Middle East (12%). ABC News, on the other hand, devoted 8% to the Middle East and 16% to the economy. NBC devoted less time to the economy, 11%, and 12% to the Middle East, on par with CBS.

“The gap is clearest between ABC World News and CBS Evening News,” said Tom Bettag, currently a producer for Rock Center With Brian Williams on NBC, but who has also worked at CBS News, ABC News and CNN. “Under Scott Pelley, CBS has not only made a commitment to hard news but has also consciously avoided the celebrity stories that come and go without a trace. The clearest example was a noteworthy decision to allow the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, pass with a fraction of the attention that ABC paid it.”22


The CBS Evening News spent a little less time on lifestyle, celebrity and sports (7%) and disasters (7%) than did ABC’s World News (11% and 9%) or NBC Nightly News (9% and 11%).

The pattern was more pronounced in the three networks’ morning news programs. PEJ examines the first 30 minutes of these programs, where they are most likely to provide hard news segments. CBS spent more time on the economy and the Middle East combined (26%) than either NBC (18%) or ABC (16%).


Morning and evening network news programs traditionally have different news agendas. The troubled U.S. economy was a significantly bigger story on the evening newscasts (15%) than on the morning shows (11%). There was also more attention given to the strife in the Middle East in the evening (11%) than the morning (9%). The presidential campaign, though, was a much bigger story in the morning (10%) than it was on the evening broadcasts (5%).

The amount of coverage with foreign datelines increased in 2011, compared to the year before, according to data from PEJ. Of the four major evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBS and PBS, the number of stories that were filed from a foreign dateline in 2011 was 698, up 9% from 640 in 2010.



In 2011, network news continued to look toward digital platforms as a way to increase audience and revenue.

The networks continued to put content on their apps for iPhones, Android devices and the iPad. They also created partnerships with online news entities gearing up for the 2012 presidential election.

In 2011, ABC News partnered with Yahoo and also launched a new political website and an app for Good Morning America to use on iPhones and Android devices.

At NBC News, Vivian Schiller was hired as chief digital officer. The company also launched and NBC Publishing to release e-books with news content. NBC also instituted a new partnership with Newsweek/The Daily Beast for the 2012 presidential campaign.

Digital Audiences

There is no easy way to comprehensively measure the total audience that accesses network news digitally. With the growth in mobile, moreover, the matter is becoming more challenging. This, of course, is part of why delivering audiences to advertisers is also a challenge.

According to at least one measurement, Nielsen’s list of total unique visitors for year 2011, the relative ranking of the three network news websites remained stable. Visits increased at ABC and CBS, but decreased at MSNBC, which still claimed far more unique visitors than ABC and CBS.

According to Nielsen data, MSNBC had 29.4 million monthly unique visitors on average in 2011, compared with 12.7 million for CBS News and 18.2 million for ABC News. MSNBC’s numbers benefit because it also draws traffic by default from Microsoft’s MSN portal, the homepage for millions of internet users.23

The popular social media tools Twitter and Facebook provide another way to measure the networks’ popularity online.

Most news programs, and a large portion of news personalities, had Twitter feeds in early 2012. Twitter provides a way for networks to both disseminate news and for consumers to communicate with news networks and personalities.

One way to gauge Twitter audience penetration is by a simple count of followers, though this is imperfect, given the abundance of ghost accounts, which can arbitrarily favor one account over another.

While all three networks showed growth in Twitter followers from 2011, they are still in the same order of popularity.

As of January 2012, CBS News (1.94 million) and ABC News (1.58 million) both had well over a million Twitter followers. NBC News’ main news Twitter feed, on the other hand, was far behind with only 192,000 followers. Still, this is an increase from about half as many in 2010. NBC’s online sibling, MSNBC has around 172,000 followers. CNBC had more (659,000), but combined the NBC constituents do not match the other broadcast networks.

But in terms of nightly news programs, the order of popularity on Twitter more closely reflects viewership. NBC Nightly News —the most watched evening news program—has the most followers on Twitter of the three network shows with almost 100,000 followers. ABC World News has 74,000 and CBS Evening News has 15,000.


In 2011, the flagship news program of PBS, the PBS NewsHour, saw a slight increase in audience and lost one of its major donors. Visits to the show’s website grew, as did funding from foundations.


The NewsHour attracted about 1.1 million viewers nightly during the 2010-11 season, according to the program’s research department. That is a slight increase from the season before.24

The NewsHour’s ratings declined, however, to 0.7. In general, the NewsHour draws about a sixth of the ratings of the average commercial network news program.



Funding became more challenging for the PBS NewsHour in 2011. Its largest corporate sponsor, Chevron, ended its $2 million annual funding of the program, but ultimately the show made up for the loss.25

The NewsHour budget for July 2011-June 2012, in fact, was expected to increase by $1.4 million to $28.8 million, according to the research department of the NewsHour.

The makeup of that funding changed somewhat from the previous season. Public funding and funding from foundations increased, while corporate sponsorship, largely due to the loss of Chevron, decreased.  Much of NewsHour’s funding, $13.5 million for the 2011-12 season or roughly 47%, comes from public funds, a $1.6 million increase from the season before.26 That includes grants from PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which obtain revenue from donors, the federal government, interest on assets, merchandising and dues from member stations, according to NewsHour staff.


Foundations make up $9.3 million of the budget, an increase from $6.5 million in the 2010-11 season. Corporate underwriting accounts for $4.9 million of the budget, a 50% cut from $9 million the year before. The remaining $1.1 million comes from other sources, including direct gifts, in-kind support, and additional corporate and foundation support.

A new effort to raise money from wealthy patrons was supposed to start in October, but it was put off until a new president of the production company that produces the broadcast was hired in January.27 Preparations for the initiative were in final stages at the time this report was released, but no formal announcement had been made.28

Despite this modest increase in funding for NewsHour, flat revenues from member stations have negatively impacted PBS’ bottom line overall, since member stations fees for programming help to fund the network. PBS’ programming budget dropped by $5 million in fiscal year 2012 to $202 million, according to the trade publication Current.29

For the third year in a row, in 2011 PBS did not increase its dues and fees for stations, and with the departure of at least one large member station, it meant a decline in member revenue. PBS lost $3.8 million in dues from KCET, a PBS station in Los Angeles that became independent in January 2011 after four decades as a PBS station. The station cited PBS dues as a reason for leaving. KCET had paid almost $7 million in dues, or about 4% of PBS’ total member dues in 2010.30

One project put on hold because of the budget shortfall is a 2009 proposal to upgrade PBS’ online news services. “I didn’t want to get partway into the project and realize we don’t have the resources to do it,” PBS president Paula Kerger told Current.

Coupled with that, foundations and other underwriters also cut back in the bad economy. “That pool of money has really shrunk,” Jeff Bieber, vice president for news and public affairs programming at WETA, the PBS station in Washington, D.C., told Current.31

News Investment

There were many departures among NewsHour staff in 2011, including one in the anchor chair.

In June, anchor Jim Lehrer stepped down from that position. After 36 years as anchor or co-anchor, he is still involved in the program and moderates the Friday news analysis and is involved with the show’s production company, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. The broadcast is now anchored by a rotating cast of the show’s senior correspondents including Jeffrey Brown, Gwen Ifill, Ray Suarez, Margaret Warner and Judy Woodruff.

In November, the NewsHour’s political editor and managing editor for digital news both departed.

  • David Chalian, the political editor, became the Washington bureau chief for Yahoo News.
  • Maureen Hoch, the managing editor for digital news, went to the World Bank.32
  • Christiana Bellantoni, formerly with CQ Roll Call, joined the NewsHour as political editor in December 2011.33

Staffing levels over all for NewsHour remained stable in 2011. A few positions that had been funded by grants are frozen and a handful of positions at the editor and producer level are open, but those positions are expected to be filled.34

There was no change in bureau counts in 2011. NewsHour has offices in San Francisco, Denver and Washington. The show’s chief science correspondent, Miles O’Brien, works out of New York, but there is no bureau there.35

News Content

The PBS NewsHour differs in its agenda from other television news programs. The most striking difference is that the NewsHour offered more than a third more coverage of international news proportionally in 2011 than the rest of the media over all, including all other forms of television news (cable, morning and evening network news). In all, 40% of the time on the NewsHour was devoted to foreign events and U.S. foreign policy compared with 28% of the media sample generally: 23% on cable news, 24% on network morning news, and 24% on network evening broadcasts.


The NewsHour spent proportionally a third more time covering government than the commercial network evening newscasts (12% vs. 9%), more time on the election and politics (7% vs. 5%), much less time on crime (2% vs. 6%), less on disasters (4% vs. 9%) and on lifestyle (2% vs. 5%).



PBS continued to increase its digital presence in 2011.

It now offers full broadcasts and live streams of NewsHour on its website and through its iPhone app, and crowd-sourced its audience to provide translation services.

NewsHour’s website had one million unique monthly viewers in 2011, a decrease from 1.4 million in 2010 (when a special feature on the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico drew many viewers to the site). Most of the site’s content is taken directly from the NewsHour broadcast, but there are additional features.  NewsHour also creates monthly podcasts, which were downloaded 14.1 million times in 2011.36

The show’s Twitter feed has over 233,000 followers (when measured in late January 2012), far more than any of the major network evening news shows. The closest, NBC Nightly News has almost 100,000.

The NewsHour also has a Facebook page, which nearly doubled in number of fans in 2011 (to 49,000). Its number of YouTube subscribers more than doubled in the same time period (to almost 22,000). Its iPhone app had been downloaded over 205,000 times by November 2011.37

As part of its State of the Union coverage in 2011, the NewsHour continued its innovations. Through collaboration with the Participatory Culture Foundation, the NewsHour organized its viewers and social media followers to help translate President Obama’s State of the Union address into other languages, using a free online tool. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting granted $420,000 for the project and Mozilla and the Participatory Culture Foundation provided $260,000.38 The translation tool is now a standard feature of the NewsHour’s campaign coverage and was used again for the 2012 State of the Union address and Republican response.39 Using the tool, the NewsHour translated at least part of the 2012 State of the Union address into 31 languages.

The NewsHour also created a digital map online for the 2012 election. The map combines material from the Associated Press and Patchwork Nation, a project that examines different kinds of communities by using demographic, voting and cultural data, to put county-by-county returns for every primary and caucus alongside demographic, economic and social data.

Other PBS News Programming

PBS has several other news programs, including news magazines Frontline and Need to Know. And Bill Moyers started a new program.

The new program, Moyers & Company, hosted by PBS veteran Bill Moyers, debuted in January 2012. Moyers said he had retired in April 2010 when Bill Moyers Journal ended its long run. The weekly series Bill Moyers Journal aired on PBS on and off from 1972 to 2010, and Now With Bill Moyers aired from 2002 to 2004.40

The new show is not being distributed by PBS, but by American Public Television, although it will still air on many PBS member stations and on Moyers told The New York Times that he was unsure why PBS declined the show for its main schedule. Some public television executives told the newspaper that they believed PBS did not want to realign itself with Moyers, a longtime target of conservatives, in efforts to keep federal funding.

Moyers & Company has about 30 employees, a little more than half of the staff of Bill Moyers Journal. The Carnegie Corporation gave Moyers a lead gift of $2 million for the new program.41

Need to Know, PBS’ Friday news magazine, went through significant changes in 2011. Alison Stewart, the show’s anchor, left in September. She had been anchoring the show alone since original co-anchor Jon Meacham became a contributing editor of the program in April.

That same month, the show was cut down from one hour to a half-hour. Need to Know was condensed for both financial and time slot reasons, Stephen Segaller, the vice president of programming at WNET in New York City, where the program originates, told The New York Times.42

To replace Stewart, the show turned to a rotating group of well-known hosts, including Scott Simon, the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday; Maria Hinojosa, the former Now on PBS correspondent; Ray Suarez, a senior correspondent at the NewsHour; and Jeff Greenfield, who still works for CBS News as well.43

Continue reading Network News: By the Numbers


  1. Potter, Deborah. “A Welcome Change.” American Journalism Review. Aug. 4, 2011.
  2. These are figures just for the month of November. PEJ’s historical Nielsen data are only for the month of November.
  3. In 2011, these shows were The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, AC360 on CNN and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Combined their audience was 4.7 million people. The three most popular prime-time news programs over all are all on Fox News.
  4. Schuker, Lauren A. E. and Vascellaro, Jessica E. “NBC’s ‘Today’ Shows Rare Weakness.” The Wall Street Journal. Oct. 6, 2011.
  5. Potter, Deborah. “A Welcome Change.” American Journalism Review. Aug. 4, 2011.
  6. Marabito, Andrea. “ ‘Nightline’ Tops Broadcast Season For First Time.” Broadcasting & Cable. June 3, 2011.
  7. This number is based on analyst estimates. PEJ estimates separate figures for each network news division.
  8. Veronis Suhler Stevenson. Communications Industry Forecast: 2011-2015.
  9. Veronis Suhler Stevenson. Communications Industry Forecast: 2011-2015.
  10. Walt Disney Company. Form 10-K.
  11. Kantar Media Data from Schuker, Lauren A. E., and Vascellaro Jessica E. “NBC’s ‘Today’ Shows Rare Weakness.” Wall Street Journal. Oct. 6, 2011.
  12. Kantar Media Data from Schuker, Lauren A. E., and Vascellaro Jessica E. “NBC’s ‘Today’ Shows Rare Weakness.” Wall Street Journal. Oct. 6, 2011.
  13. Elliott, Stuart. “CBS on Top, Again, as Upfront Market Ends.” The New York Times. June 9, 2011.
  14. Stelter, Brian. “CBS Corp. Profits Increase, but Revenue Comes Up Short.” The New York Times. Feb. 15, 2012.
  15. CBS SEC Filing. CBS Corporation Reports Strong Fourth Quarter.
  16. SNL Kagan. “Economics of Basic Cable Networks: 2011 Edition.”
  17. Comcast press release. “Comcast Reports 4th Quarter and Year End 2011 Results.” Feb. 15, 2012.
  18. Stelter, Brian. “CBS Corp. Profits Increase, but Revenue Comes Up Shot.” The New York Times. Feb. 15, 2012.
  19. Ariens, Chris. “The Common Thread of ‘Person to Person’ and ‘Rock Center.’” TV Newser. Feb. 9, 2012.
  20. Based on PEJ coding of network news programming. For more, visit The Year in the News.
  21. Stelter, Brian. “Big Three Newscasts Are Changing the State of Play.” The New York Times. Jan 8, 2012.
  22. Bettag, Tom. Interview with PEJ. Feb. 21, 2012. Bettag is also a reader for this chapter.
  23. is the default homepage on most Microsoft-based PC browsers and has long been one of the top news destinations on the internet.
  24. The average audience for the 2009-10 season was 1,058,000 viewers. For the 2010-11 season it was 1,067,000.
  25. Jensen, Elizabeth. “ ‘NewsHour’ Changes Raise Questions at PBS.” The New York Times. Nov. 6, 2011.
  26. PBS NewsHour Marketing and Communications staff. Jan. 30, 2012.
  27. Simon Marks, the president of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, left in September. Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., the former publisher of the Washington Post and vice chairman of the Washington Post Company, replaced him. Source: Jensen, Elizabeth. “ ‘NewsHour’ Changes Raise Questions at PBS.” The New York Times. Nov. 6, 2011.
  28. Raine, Clay. Marking research and data assistant, MacNeil Lehrer Productions. Email to PEJ. Feb. 22, 2012.
  29. Sefton, Dru. “Making the Most of What PBS Can Do.”Current. May 16, 2011.
  30. Sefton, Dru. “KCET’s Split From PBS Leaves Uncertainty for Both.” Current. Oct. 18, 2010.
  31. Sefton, Dru. “Making the Most of What PBS Can Do.” Current. May 16, 2011.
  32. Jensen, Elizabeth. “ ‘NewsHour’ Changes Raise Questions at PBS.” The New York Times. Nov. 6, 2011.
  33. Ariens, Chris. “Christina Bellantoni Joins PBS NewsHour.” TV Newser. Dec. 20, 2011.
  34. Raine, Clay. Marking research and data assistant, MacNeil Lehrer Productions. Email to PEJ. Jan. 31, 2012.
  35. Raine, Clay. Marking research and data assistant, MacNeil Lehrer Productions. Email to PEJ. Jan. 31, 2012.
  36. PBS NewsHour Marketing and Communications staff. Jan. 30, 2012.
  37. NewsHour Research Department.
  38. Tenore, Mallary Jean. “NewsHour Crowdsources Translations of President Obama’s ‘State of the Union.’ ” Poynter. Jan. 25, 2012.
  39. PBS NewsHour marketing and communications staff. Jan. 30, 2012.
  40. Sefton, Dru. “Moyers Returns in January With Weekly Hour.” Current. Aug. 29, 2011.
  41. Jensen, Elizabeth. “He’s Back, Just as Curious as Ever.” The New York Times. Jan. 6, 2012.
  42. Jensen, Elizabeth. “Anchor to Leave PBS’s ‘Need to Know.’ ” The New York Times. Aug. 28, 2011.
  43. Jensen, Elizabeth. “PBS’s ‘Need to Know’ Turns to Roster of Guest Hosts.” The New York Times. Sept. 11, 2011.