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Trump, COVID, and the Decline of the TV Universe

Updated: Feb 28

The Washington Post recently ran a story saying that “of all Donald Trump’s prophecies and predictions,” including that “Mexico would pay for a border wall,” at least one of the former president’s claims may have been accurate. Mr. Trump contended in 2017 that “newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there, because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes.” The article also reports that national “news outlets are indeed losing much of the audience and readership they gained during his chaotic presidency.”

"...Without me, their ratings are going down the tubes."


Local television news in El Paso experienced a temporary reprieve from a decline in viewers during the unprecedented year that was 2020. Audiences were willing to pause their favorite streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, to catch up on the latest in a constant string of breaking news events that weren’t just limited to the president.

In addition to the 2020 election and the political turmoil that followed, stations also saw increased tune-in from a steady drumbeat of other big stories. These included the COVID-19 pandemic and its terrible impact on the El Paso community and the protests and civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd. However, as these stories and coverage of Trump have faded from the headlines somewhat, so have local news ratings.

"Stations also saw increased tune-in from a steady drumbeat of other big stories."

According to media measurement company Comscore, the most-watched local evening newscast in the El Paso-Las Cruces market airs at six o’clock on a leading affiliate. The ratings for that broadcast climbed from an average rating of 9.8 among adults age 25-54 in March 2019 to an impressive 13.2 in March 2020, when the first pandemic stay-at-home orders were issued. Now in a post-Trump world with decreasing numbers of virus cases, the average rating for the same broadcast has decreased to 12.0 in March 2021.


On the surface, it might appear that the top evening news in the Borderland has at least retained some of its 2020 increase this year and is in better shape than it was in 2019, but that assumption would be wrong. Why, you might ask? Stick with us, the answer can be a little confusing, but it lies in the definition of a rating point and the cord-cutting trend.

Television ratings represent a percentage of a demographic group known as a "universe." With increasing numbers of consumers ditching traditional linear television for streaming media, the actual number of broadcast television households in the El Paso-Las Cruces market has dropped from 338,770 in 2019 to 258,554, or a whopping -23.7% decrease in just two years!

"...A whopping -23.7% decrease in just two years!"

A smaller audience universe means that each rating point now represents fewer viewers than it did in 2019. Back then, a 9.8 rating for the leading six o’clock news equated to 22,096 adults age 25-54. Now without Trump driving up viewership, the coronavirus on the decline, and with cord-cutting and streaming television wreaking havoc on the traditional broadcast audience pie, a 12.0 only equates to 20,657 viewers in the key A25-54 demo in 2021 or a -6.5% decrease.


So what’s the bottom line for local advertisers? The solution is in the details, keep an eye on the numbers and contact EFO Media. We have the resources and expertise to keep you from paying more for less.

Source: Comscore StationView Essentials, Series Demos Report, Households with Age Range A25-54, El Paso-Las Cruces DMA, March 2019, March 2020, and March 2021


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