NEW YORK (AP) — Defying trends that have hurt the news industry, the average broadcast television station in the United States has added nearly an hour's worth of newscast time to its day over the past three years, a study released Wednesday found.
On weekdays, a typical station airs five and a half hours of local news, according to an annual survey by the Radio Television Digital News Association and Hofstra University. Affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox show more news than independent stations.
While newspapers have struggled to find revenue sources as readership decreases, local news is generally a steady and reliable income generator for local stations, said Bob Papper, the Hofstra professor who conducts the annual survey.
"It is astounding," Papper said. "What it tells you is the local TV business, for the most part, sees local news as more and more of its future."
Morning is the biggest growth period for the local stations. If the network affiliates air a local newscast prior to programs like "Today" or "Good Morning America," for example, they are pushing earlier and earlier to 4:30 a.m. and even 4 a.m. for starting times.
The survey of TV news directors found that 71 percent said that their news audience is increasing during the morning, with only 3 percent saying it is going down. The remainder said the news audience at that hour is stable.
Local TV stations are also pushing into the afternoon. When Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show, which aired at 4 p.m. before the local news in many markets, some stations decided to replace it with an extra hour of news instead of another talk show. Syndication costs keep going up, while local stations feel they can have better cost controls with their own broadcasts, Papper said.
Of about 400 news directors at local TV stations questioned, not a single one expected to see news time cut back during 2012.
The survey also found that a total of 1,131 local TV news jobs were added nationally in 2011, an increase of 4 percent over staffing levels from the year before. The typical broadcast station has more news employees than ever before, the study said.
"You can't keep increasing news without increasing employment," Papper said.
For some stations, political advertising is a factor in making news broadcasts a more attractive commodity. Political ads are often concentrated on local newscasts, and the more newscast time, the greater chance to sell ads. For stations in states considered battlegrounds in the presidential election, politics represents a good revenue opportunity, Papper said.
Fox affiliates were the most likely to have added news in 2011, followed by CBS stations, the survey said. Stations in the West were much less likely to add news than elsewhere in the country.
The typical local TV station reported airing four hours, 36 minutes in news during 2009, the survey said. This year, the average is 5 hours and 30 minutes.
The Hofstra and RTDNA study, conducted during the past few months of 2011, received responses from 1,238 TV stations across the country, or 71 percent of the total.