Network News Saw Biggest Audience Growth in a Decade

The three major networks all saw significant growth in their audiences over the past year;online audience numbers continue to soar.

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For the first time in a decade, the three major news networks — NBC, CBS and ABC — are celebrating audience growth.

A Pew Research study released Monday shows that network news audiences grew 4.5 percent in 2011. Even local television stations got a piece of the action, earning their largest audiences in five years.

Average evening news viewership increased by almost a million people in 2011, according to an analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. On average, 22.5 million people tuned into ABC, CBS and NBC News each evening, with 13.1 million people tuning into morning shows, a 5.4 percent growth.

Networks added scores of 25-to-54-year olds to their audiences, a group that has been difficult to court in years past. [Obama Steals Super Tuesday Spotlight.]

"In fact, nearly a quarter of the growth in viewership in the second quarter came from that demographic," said Deborah Potter, a co-author of the study.

Cable news channels were more of a mixed bag, with CNN dramatically increasing their viewership by 16 percent in prime time. Fox News, which continues to attract the largest audience overall, experienced a second year of audience decline.

The study concluded that the increase in network news audiences was linked to a focus on topics than any restructuring of the networks. [See Who is Afraid of Rush LImbaugh?]

For example, many news stations saw their audiences grow dramatically while covering the Arab Spring, only to see their viewership drop off after the Middle East unrest subsided.

Other stories, including the death of Osama bin Laden, Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords being shot, the royal wedding and Japanese tsunami attracted droves of viewers.

Online media saw the largest amount of audience growth, with a 17.2 percent jump from 2010.

The study found more than 25 percent of people consume news on mobile devices, which is strengthening the brand of well-known news organizations.

The study also found that while 54 percent of Americans are on Facebook, spending an average of seven hours a month on the social networking site, the majority of Americans aren't using Facebook or Twitter to get news. The survey found that less than 10 percent of news consumers will take their friends' recommendations on Facebook or Twitter.

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