However, It doesn't explain what made newspapers so vulnerable to the disruptions of the health crisis.
Ad revenue for newspaper publishers fell by a median of 42% in the second quarter from a year earlier, while circulation revenue slipped 8%, according to the study of publicly traded publishers. Pew's analysis included Belo, Gannett, Lee Enterprises, The New York Times, Tribune and McClatchy, which isn’t public any longer, after being acquired out of bankruptcy in September.
Digital ad revenue for publishers fell by a median of 32% during the early days of the pandemic, according to Pew's research. That's unfortunate, considering other studies have indicated that homebound consumers increased their consumption of digital media as they sought news updates about the pandemic.
The decline contrasted with the 2% gain in ad revenue for the three major cable news networks, though there were key differences among CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC. Fox's 41% jump in revenue more than offset CNN's decline of 14% and MSNBC's drop of 27%, though all three networks experienced higher viewership.
Ad revenue for nightly network TV rose 11%, with ABC's 21% increase outpacing NBC's 7% and CBS's 3% gains, as viewership hit records, according to Pew's analysis.
Newspapers likely experienced steeper drops in ad revenue than TV news outlets, due to their dependence on local businesses for revenue. While some national brands may have been locked into upfront contracts or increased their spending in the scatter market, the same cannot be said for smaller businesses that advertise in newspapers.
Many local papers sell ad space to retailers, real-estate brokers, car dealerships, restaurants and entertainment venues that were forced to shut down or curtail their operations during pandemic lockdowns. It's not clear how much of that lost ad revenue will come back, making other sources of revenue, such as subscriptions and digital paywalls, more important for publishers.