TV, radio see increased usage amid coronavirus crisis


Many viewers and listeners rediscover two old standbys

In a time of crisis, Americans are tuning to two sources they trust the most: radio and television.

Numerous reports have been published this week detailing how both mediums are benefiting (for the lack of a more suited term) from the current coronavirus crisis as homes using television levels and people using radio levels have surged thanks to stay-at-home orders in affect in basically all the largest TV and radio DMAs, including Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, The Bay Area (San Francisco), and the Dallas County portion of the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

Even though the numbers came out before the crisis hit its stride (with the stay-at home orders and such), Entercom’s all-news WBBM-AM topped the Chicago market in February and is expected to dominate the ratings as listeners tune in for the latest on the crisis. Other stations including WGN-AM and conservative talk WLS-AM are also expected to see increased listenership in the months, if not weeks ahead.

According to Nielsen, 83 percent of Americans are spending more time (or the same) with radio due to the coronavirus crisis. In an online survey taken for three days last week, 60 percent of listeners aged 18 and older say they trust radio to give them timely information on COVID-19. iHeartMedia, the nation’s largest radio operator who owns six stations in the Chicago area, have reported their digital platforms have seen sharp increases across the board including in smart speakers, their websites, and Smart TV apps. Online interaction with iHeartMedia personalities are also up.

Many radio stations are adjusting with the new reality of “social distancing” as more and more hosts are broadcasting from home, thanks to technology such as ISDN lines. And believe it or not, voice tracking is actually an asset at a time like this.

Of course, not all is positive. Many radio and television stations have suffered advertising cancellations resulting in lost revenue and a few stations have already gone dark due to the crisis including a cluster in Maine and a small conservative talk station in Atlanta.

As for local TV stations, many of them are adjusting on the fly, including weather forecasters Brant Miller and Cheryl Scott doing the weather from their respective homes. On Tuesday, CBS-owned WBBM-TV did an entire newscast outdoors as a trial run in case the station’s facilities is evacuated in case of an emergency. Ratings for local news stations are reportedly up, though numbers were not immediately available.

Ratings are up in prime-time for the most part, with cable news channels recording the biggest gains. Sports viewers who would normally watch ESPN and regional sports channels have also gravitated to news, whether if it is local or national. Broadcasters have also attracted more young viewers as the crisis unfolds. Ratings in the 25 largest markets (including Chicago) show live viewing of local news are up 52 percent in the 18-34 demo in the first week of March and up 83 percent in the second week of March, compared to last year at this time. Nielsen released more figures Thursday, with overall television usage up 18 percent with Chicago achieving a 20 percent ratings surge.

While ratings for numerous prime-time shows are up such as NCIS and This Is Us, others haven’t benefited. For example, Fox’s animation lineup on Sunday night finished fourth in the adults 18-49 demo, even behind Univision. Whether this momentum can be sustainable is debatable, given many at-home viewers also have access to streaming services such as Netlix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, among others.

Advertising has also become softer, striking a more somber tone as marketers are letting us know “we’re there for you” and “we’ll get through this”. Many ad clients who are full-service restaurants are emphasizing online ordering and curbside pickup. Others have sat out, such as movie studios and brick-and-mortar retailers. This year’s upfronts have been canceled, as the networks are shifting to interactive presentations.

The coronavirus crisis has certainly changed the media industry as in-home entertainment has become more commonplace. Seeing people sequestered in their homes is still an unusual sight, but it is one we may have to get used to for awhile.

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