All The News That's Fit To Message

(On WhatsApp, Instagram, Alexa et al)

Some interesting data points from the seventh annual release of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report for 2018, a survey conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, with 74,000 people in 37 countries, with data gathered via online polls in collaboration with YouGov. An acknowledged limitation was that the survey was conducted in countries with internet access — making this an imperfect survey of digital natives. In sum, more of our news will be with phone alerts, pushed through messaging apps, shared privately for our eyes and ears only — via on-demand podcasts and short-form videos.

Here are some of their findings:


the move to distributed content via social media and aggregators has been halted — or is even starting to reverse, while subscriptions are increasing in a number of countries

Last year’s significant increase in subscription in the United States … has been maintained, while donations and donation-based memberships are emerging as a significant alternative strategy in Spain, and the UK as well as in the United States. These payments are closely linked with political belief and come disproportionately from the young.”

“Taking the United States as an example, weekly social media use for news grew steadily from 27% in 2013 to a peak of 51% before falling back significantly this year to 45% (-6)…. In the UK usage grew from 20% in 2013 to 41% in 2017 before falling back. The decline in Brazil appears to have started in 2016.”

“News consumption via Facebook is down 9 percentage points in the United States and 20 points with younger groups. In our urban Brazilian sample the use of Facebook for news has fallen to 52% — a 17 point change from 2016. It is important to note that the decline is not universal. Facebook news usage is up significantly in Malaysia and the Czech Republic. But in most countries the
 picture is one of decline.”

digital advertising remains a critical source of revenue, most publishers recognise that this will not be enough, on its own, to support high quality journalism. Across the industry we are seeing a renewed push to persuade consumers to pay directly for online news through subscription, membership, donations or per-article payments.

Despite the shift towards reader payment models, it is worth remembering that the majority of online news consumption still happens through free websites, largely supported by advertising (or through public subsidy). This is particularly true for a number of media companies that have set out to create truly global brands.”

Ad models continue to be undermined by low rates of return, fraud, and increased consumer concerns about privacy.

Traditional Television in the Age of Streamland is losing its signalling value:

Television remains a critical source of news for many — but declines in annual audience continue to raise new questions about the future role of public broadcasters and their ability to attract the next generation of viewers”

THE “SONG of the FLYWHEEL”, VOICE, grows louder and more are listening:

“Podcasts are becoming popular across the world due to better content and easier distribution. They are almost twice as popular in the United States (33%) as they are in the UK (18%). Young people are far more likely to use podcasts than listen to speech radio.”

Voice-activated digital assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home continue to grow rapidly, opening new opportunities for news audio. Usage has more than doubled in the United States, Germany, and the UK with around half of those who have such devices using them for news and information.”

a third of our entire sample (34%) listens to a podcast at least monthly but there are significant country differences. Podcasts are twice as popular in Ireland (38%) as they are in the UK (18%) despite the BBC’s extensive, well-promoted, and high-quality podcast output. One theory is that podcasts tend to perform best in countries like the US (33%) and Australia (33%) where people spend a lot of time in their cars. The lower levels of usage in the Netherlands (18%) may relate to shorter commuting distances and more bike travel.”

NOTES: What happens as autonomous and on-demand driving frees up even more of our time to consume media in all its various formats?

One further driver of on-demand audio growth has been the emergence of voice-activated speakers. These allow access to existing podcasts as well as new formats such as automated news audio briefings. Media companies like Quartz are also developing apps (or ‘skills’ as they are known) that allow conversational interaction with the devices.”

“The Amazon Echo range (using the Alexa assistant) is the market leader but is only available in a few markets like the US, UK, Germany, and Australia. South Korea’s tech companies Naver and Kakao have their own devices, Apple has launched the HomePod, while the Google Home and Google Assistant will be expanded to over 30 countries this year. Usage for any purpose has more than
 doubled in early adopter markets. Almost one in ten (9%) now use them in the United States, 7% in the UK, and 5% in Germany.

MESSAGING PLATFORMS + Smartphones > older social media + older devices

“At the same time we have seen a rise in the usage of alternative platforms such
 as WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat.”

WhatsApp use for news has almost tripled since 2014 and has overtaken Twitter in importance in many countries. But this conceals wide variations from 54% in Malaysia (+3) and 48% in Brazil (+2) to 14% in Germany (+2) and just 4% in the United States (+1).”

NOTE: Facebook still “wins”, as it owns WhatsApp and Instagram. There’s a caveat about the rise of Messaging platforms as the new networks. Part of the impetus has been the current social mood driving users to more private conversations, an increasing aversion to news consumption on Facebook, as well as the desire for privacy in State-dominated information environments.

To some extent these increases have also been driven by publishers changing their strategies in a bid to become less dependent on Facebook. For example, more media companies have adopted the ‘Instagram story’ format, which now attracts around 300m daily active users per day. The BBC have extended their activities on Instagram into longer features and quizzes reaching 4.8m followers.”

Increasing experimentation on messaging apps to improvise native news publishing tools:

“a number of media organisations in Latin America and Spain have been experimenting with ‘broadcast lists’, news groups, quizzes, and audio notes.”

shorter audience attention spans and smaller mobile screens are affecting the type of news content produced. Visually rich formats such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Google (AMP) stories are starting to offer new opportunities for mobile storytelling, using native taps and swipes to break up narratives. Pictures and videos need to be reformatted using vertical aspect ratios and often annotated with text to work in a mobile context.”

There is a news consumption method demarcation zone between 35 to 45:

“The demographic push from under 35s remains towards greater use of mobile aggregators and social platforms and less direct access. Pulling in the opposite direction is the rebirth of email, which is being used as an effective tactic to bring consumers back to news websites directly, but this channel mainly resonates with over 45s. It is unlikely to attract younger users.”

The “FRONT PAGE” of the future is your smartphone:

“The importance of smartphones — and our dependence on them — shows no sign of slowing down. On average 62% of our sample say they use the smartphone for news weekly (+6), only just behind the laptop/computer at 64%. In most countries, smartphone reach for news has doubled in six years.

The fastest growing gateway to news over the last three years has been mobile news alerts. These resonate with younger users who frequently start their day with the lock screen. Picking up on this opportunity, publishers have been sending more alerts on a wider range of subjects. They are also starting to use artificial intelligence (AI) to make them more relevant. In the last year we have seen strong growth in Latin America, Spain, and most of Asia. Access has been stable in the US, UK, and much of Europe after two strong years of growth.”

(RANDOM NOTE: In my recent piece about Scooters, one of the most compelling ideas about funding these “toys” startups was the notifications on users’ phones as among the first things seen in the morning as they begin their day.)

For now TEXT > VIDEO (even though video on messaging apps is on the rise)

“In a number of countries we have been tracking content type preferences since 2014 and in all countries we still find an overwhelming preference towards reading rather than watching.”

There are local preferences, bandwidth availability plus attention spans.

In summary: messaging apps + smartphones + voice is on the rise.