Nightly network news shows have been struggling for years to maintain their relevance. Not only are they faced with an aging audience, but younger viewers also aren’t filling the gap by huddling around the TV every night at the same time the way their parents did. You can blame smartphones, cord-cutting, and the rise of streaming and nontraditional news sources for that.
And in a year where billions turned to their smartphones first for news on the pandemic, you’d think those struggles would only accelerate. But 2020 has actually seen new life breathed into network news shows—and not just over the airwaves.
Citing data from analytics platforms such as YouTube Analytics, Tubular, and Socialbakers, NBC has shared numbers with Fast Company that show that its popular nightly newscasts like NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt have seen explosive growth on YouTube this year. The flagship news program is up 769% on YouTube over 2019. Since the pandemic began in earnest in the United States in March, the show has garnered an average of an extra 1.6 million viewers for each episode. And the number of people who start watching either a full episode or a clip from an episode rose to an average of 67 million per month from March to November—up 480% since 2019.
Another interesting tidbit is that while NBC is seeing explosive growth for its newscasts on YouTube, 30 to 40% of YouTube viewers are not watching its shows on smartphones or computers. Instead, they are watching the YouTube streams on televisions via set-top boxes like the Apple TV, Roku, and Fire Streaming Stick.
It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in 2021. If so, those claiming the demise of the nightly national newscast is upon us may have spoken too soon.
This post has been updated to clarify the sources of the data.