Eurispes – CoRiS Sapienza: prime time information in the year of Covid-19

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The Eurispes-CoRiS Sapienza Tv News Observatory proposes an analysis of the audience of the Tv news of the seven generalist networks (Tg Rai, Mediaset, and La7) at the end of the year, comparing 2019 and 2020.


The effects of the pandemic have had such an impact on the data that it is possible to speak of “an anomaly” in the data trend. The increase in the average audience of information in the evening compared to 2019 offsets the rating haemorrhage that has recently significantly reduced the prime time audience and the overall audience of generalist TV. The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is at the root of this trend reversal is demonstrated by the fact that there was still a drop of approximately 400,000 viewers in January 2020 compared to the previous year.

The most significant increase in the audience was recorded in March and April, as expected, with a 48 % and 52 % increase compared to the same period in 2019. A trend that was repeated mainly during the second wave (October-December), with audience increases ranging from 18% to 32% compared to 2019; a similar trend occurred, albeit to a much lesser extent, during the summer months, with an average audience consistently higher than in 2019, despite the absence of time or circulation limits.

In absolute terms, the average audience for prime-time news increased by more than 7.5 million viewers in the spring months (7.62 million in March and 7.51 million in April), reaching more than 23 million viewers. In addition, there was significant growth in the autumn months, with November and December outnumbering May in terms of both audience and viewership compared to 2019.

To find comparable levels, we must go back ten years to a time when generalist television reigned supreme in national news. Even when compared to the same period in 2011, the lockdown audience outnumbers the average audience of ten years ago by 1.4 and 3.1 million in March and April, respectively.

In terms of absolute records, the peak audience for 2020 television information was recorded on Sunday 22 March – the day of the signing of the Prime Minister’s Decree imposing the lockdown on non-essential production activities – with an audience of over 27 million viewers: an increase of 8.5 million compared to the most-watched evening of information in 2019, namely Friday 18 March.

In March and April, Rai programming grew by 34.6 % on average, while evening editions of Tg1, Tg2, and Tg3 grew by 50.3 %. The result for Mediaset’s prime time news was even better, with a 52 % increase in audience versus a 34.7 % increase for the other three networks. Particular attention should be paid to the +46.2 % increase in the audience of the entire La7 network over the previous year.

The first stage of the pandemic had a greater impact on prime-time news audiences. While consistent in October, November, and December, the results are significantly lower than the peaks of the first phase.

Tg3 is the publication that has gained the most in terms of proportion, with a significant increase even in the second half of 2020, when the other publications are experiencing more limited growth.

The Tv News Observatory is monitoring prime time topics in the Covid-19 year.

According to the Eurispes-CoRiS Sapienza News Observatory, news on the Covid-19 was the main topic of prime time news in the first half of 2020[1,] accounting for nearly 64 % of the front pages (662 out of 1,042) and 39.7 % of the headlines (2,743 out of 6,900) of Rai, Mediaset, and La7 TV news.

Following the summer interlude, with the easing of restrictive measures and the reduction of the perception of a state of health emergency, the levels of attention mentioned above returned “above the guard level” in the second half of the year. News about Covid accounted for more than 54 % of openings (449 out of 838) and nearly 38 % of overall headlines in the third quarter (September-December).

In the final months of the year, news coverage differed significantly from Phase 1: openings focused less and less on the “numbers” of the epidemic – except in November when the number of infections peaked – and more on the measures produced by the numerous Dpcm issued by the Government to respond in real time to the effects of the second wave. The space reserved for the Presidents of the Regions also changed: whereas during the first phase, figures such as Fontana, Zaia, or De Luca had similar (if not higher) visibility in the headlines than the prominent party leaders, the political tensions that characterised the final months of 2020 eclipsed these presences to the benefit of the Conte-Renzi clash and the claims o (very present in the Mediaset news). Overall, the contrast between political forces occupies a small portion of the headlines, accounting for between 15% and 13% of total headlines between the periods studied.

The “cone of shadow” created by the ongoing health emergency’s inevitable monopolisation of the information agenda has significantly obscured many essential issues. Among these is the focus on migration, which naturally falls into the category “other,” as it is generally absent from the openings with only 1.2 % of the headlines: 18 slots in 10 months, all of which are related – directly or indirectly – to Salvini’s figure, the Gregoretti and Open Arms cases, and changes in security decrees. It occurred even though the number of arrivals more than tripled during the year compared to 2019.

The only “window on the world” that remained open with some consistency in prime time television journalism was in the United States. In the first half of 2020, seven editions of national news programmes dedicated 330 headlines, including 14 openings primarily related to the protests following George Floyd’s death. The focus in the final months of the year was, of course, on the presidential elections on 3 November, with more than 30 openings during that week.



The full report is available at the following link:

1] The elaborations were based on the period covered by the Tv News Observatory -Sapienza’s daily monitoring, which for 2020 covered the first half of the year and the last four months of 2020 (September-December). It is a 303-day sample from a total of 1,862 editions monitored.





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