Steve Dempsey: News brands must get mobile if they are to have a sustainable future
Earlier this year over 70,000 people in 36 countries took an online survey about digital news. Some lucky participants were then invited to attend follow-up focus groups The result is the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017, the world's biggest ongoing survey of news consumption.
Unveiling the report last week in Vienna, Nic Newman, visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, highlighted five key trends.
The first was trust.
Two-fifths of the respondents think that the media does a good job of separating fact from fiction. It's hardly a ringing endorsement. However, trust was found to vary from country to country. Finns find their media consistently credible, with trust hitting 62pc. But in the likes of Greece and South Korea, where the media isn't seen as independent from political or business interests, trust in media outlets dips to 23pc.
But political polarisation was also found to affect trust. In the US, for example, right-wing voters feel under-represented by the media, with Fox News the only major media outlet serving their interests. "People who self-identify on the right are three times as likely to mistrust the media as those on the left," Newman said. "So, the majority of mistrust that we found any way in the States is related to political polarisation." A similar picture was found in the UK. But there's a different issue in Germany, where there are few large partisan news outlets. "There's much more of a sense that the media is almost too constrained," Newman said. "That it's actually too close to the establishment."
The second key trend Newman highlighted was the role of social media in discovering and sharing the news. Over 54pc of those surveyed use social media for news every week. But in some countries, social media is losing its grip. Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden and others have all seen its importance fall.
But while social apps may be dipping, messaging apps are on the up. For example, the number of people using WhatsApp for news has doubled to 15pc. The growth in the importance of mobile was the least surprising trend. 2017 marks the tipping point in the US and UK, where smartphones have overtaken computers in terms of news access. But Asian and Nordic countries have been mobile first for some time, while accessing news in Central, Southern, and Eastern European countries is still mainly done on laptops or desktops.
The 'Trump Bump' - or worries around fake news increasing consumers' likelihood to pay for news - was the fourth trend highlighted by Newman. It's certainly evident in the US. "The percentage paying for some kind of online news has risen by seven percentage points,'" he said. "So it was 9pc, it's now 16pc. I think what's interesting is a lot of the increase has been driven largely by young people, and also largely by people on the political left." Is this evident elsewhere? Not really. The equivalent figure in other countries is 13pc.
But while news audiences aren't sold on paying for news, neither are they adopting ad blockers as readily as they once were. This was the fifth and final key trend. Reuters found that the growth of adblockers has stalled on desktop, at around 24pc, with only 7pc using ad blockers on mobile devices. And promisingly, an increasing proportion of respondents, 43pc to be exact, have agreed to disable ad-blockers for favoured news sites
So where does the report leave the news media in 2017? Does it provide any insights into how digital media outlets could evolve?
Admittedly, it's hard to get an accurate picture when there's so much regional variation - but there are some common opportunities. While news brands do have a trust issue, each has the opportunity to build strong brand that appeals to its own base, regardless of whether that base is paying to subscribe to the brand's journalism.
As smartphone penetration increases, news brands need to beef up their mobile visibility and performance. That means strong social strategy - again this relates to branding. But it also means a direct relationship with users via mobile apps. And this tallies with findings in the Reuters report, which found a jump in the use of news apps in almost all countries. The largest increase in app use was reported in counties where mobile notifications have increased; the US, Australia and South Korea. Apps offer online news brands a direct relationship with their users. And via push notifications they have the opportunity to colonise the most important mobile screen of all - the lock screen.
Sunday Indo Business