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Digital News Report 2019: The five essential charts for publishers

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Damian Radcliffe picks out the key findings, the best charts and the implications for publishers from the latest Digital News Report.

“This year’s report sees the news industry at yet another crossroads,” write the authors of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019.

The study, which features conclusions from a survey of more than 75,000 people in 38 markets, find that “we are seeing some real shifts of focus.”

“News organisations are increasingly looking to subscription and membership or other forms of reader contribution to pay the bills in a so-called ‘pivot to paid’.

Platforms are rethinking their responsibilities in the face of events (Christchurch attacks, Molly Russell suicide) and regulatory threats, with Facebook rebalancing its business towards messaging apps and groups – the so-called ‘pivot to private’.

Meanwhile audiences continue to embrace on-demand formats with new excitement around podcasts (New York Times, Guardian) and voice technologies – the so-called ‘pivot to audio’.”

Here are five essential trends – and the charts which support them – from the 156 report which was published earlier today.

1: We may be approaching peak-paywall

“This year’s survey finds only a small increase in the numbers paying for any online news,” notes Richard Fletcher, a Research Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “Some in the news business worry that, even though subscriber numbers remain low by some standards, we might already be close to reaching an upper limit,” he adds.

Key findings:

  • Growth in online payments of any kind – including subscriptions, memberships, or donations – has grown slightly in Norway (34% up 4%,) Sweden (27% up just 1% from last year). The number paying in the US (16%) remains static.
  • Even in households with high incomes and a high level of interest in news, the majority nonetheless only have ONE online news subscription.

Implications:

  • It’s easy to trumpet the success of the Guardian or the New York Times and their record-breaking numbers. For most outlets, the reality of switching to subscriber-led revenues, is much harder then these narratives suggest.
  • Growing concerns about ‘subscription fatigue’ – where audiences may be becoming frustrated at paying separately for a variety of different online services – means that bundling becomes a more popular solution.

The report notes (pg.12) that “The Times of London offers free access to the Wall Street Journal while the Washington Post bundles cheaper access via Amazon Prime. The New York Times is offering a joint subscription with Scribd while Dagens Nyheter in Sweden is partnering with Bookbeat around audio and ebooks.”

Image: Proportion That Made An Ongoing News Payment In The Last Year – Selected Markets
Source: Digital News Report, 2019

2: We are not shifting the trust needle

“More than half (55%) of our sample across 38 countries remains concerned about their ability to separate what is real and fake on the internet,” the report states.

“The biggest jump in concern (+12pp) came in the UK (70%),” the report adds, “where the news media have taken a lead in breaking stories about misinformation on Facebook and YouTube and there has been a high-profile House of Commons inquiry into the issue.”

Key findings:

  • Concern about fake vs. real news is highest in Brazil (85%), South Africa (70%), Mexico (68%), and France (67%). It is lowest in the Netherlands (31%), and Germany (38%).
  • Consumers seem to be increasingly aware of their role and responsibilities in the information-sharing ecosystem, with many (e.g. 61% in Brazil and 40% in Taiwan) consciously deciding not to share an ‘unreliable’ story on social media in the past year.

Implications:

  • Some audiences seem to be leaning towards traditional brands, which they perceive as more ‘reputable,’ making it harder for newer entrants and less well-known entities to break through, or maintain their growth.
  • The news media is seen as breaking the news better than explaining it, reflecting a need – or a perceived need – for different types of coverage. Almost two-thirds (62%) of the report sample feel the media is good at keeping people up to date, compared with just over half (51%) who feel the news media helps them to actually understand the news.
Image: Concerns about real and fake news online

3: Some audiences are switching off

“Avoidance continues to be a real issue,” the report observes. “This year we find that almost a third (32%) say they actively avoid the news – 3 points more than when we last asked this question in 2017.”

When looking at this statistic, it’s worth remembering that the study’s sample is comprised of news consumers. Anyone who said that they had not consumed any news in the past month, is excluded, meaning the real number of news avoiders is much higher.

Reasons for this active abstinence “may be because the world has become a more depressing place or because the media coverage tends to be relentlessly negative – or a mix of the two,” the authors speculate.

Key findings:

  • Croatia (56%), Turkey (55%), and Greece (54%) have the highest levels of news avoidance. Japan (11%) has the lowest less of avoidance, even though trust levels (at 39%) ranks 25th out of the 38 nations studied.
  • News avoidance has grown rapidly in the UK, driven by Brexit. More than half (58%) of respondents in the UK avoid the news because it has a negative impact on their mood. Four in ten (40%) point to feeling powerless to change events.

Implications:

  • Post-Brexit, may see a shift in UK attitudes. We will have to wait and see.
  • News outlets may have to frame their content and story mix (as well as perception of it) differently, if existing news consumers – nevermind new ones – are to return to their previous consumption levels. In the era of audience-led revenue models, publishers cannot afford to “turn off” audiences among the most likely to pay for their product.
Image: News avoidance

4: Audio continues to have its moment in the sun

“Podcasts have been around for many years but … appear to be reaching critical mass as a consequence of better content and easier distribution,” the study says.

Alongside this, “Audio prospects may be further boosted by the rapid adoption of voice-activated speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home.”

Key findings:

  • 36% of digital news users accessed a podcast in the last month. Consumption levels was highest in South Korea (53%) followed by Spain (39%) and Ireland (37%).
  • The Daily, from the New York Times, may be the world’s most popular podcast. It has “around 5m daily listeners,” the report says.
  • Use of smart speakers (e.g. Amazon Echo and Google Home) more than doubled South Korea (5% to 9%) in the past year. The UK saw similar growth (up from 7% to 14%), while usage was up +3% (from 9% to 12%) in the United States.

Implications:

  • Publishers and news media are investing heavily in both of these spaces. This is leading to an explosion of high quality content, but may also change the podcasting experience.
    “Advertising is becoming more intrusive; Spotify and other platforms have started to pay for exclusive premium content (blockbusters), and publishers like Politiken (Denmark, Ed) have started to restrict two or three of their daily briefings to subscribers only,” the report notes.
  • Meanwhile, for all of the excitement about smart speakers, news consumption is consistently low on the list of uses for most consumers, behind listening to music, functional information (e.g. weather, traffic etc.) and other traditional audio habits.

The breakthrough format for this new medium has yet to be determined.

Image: Smart speaker usage – general vs. for news

5: The Return of the Aggregators: This time it’s personal.

The humble aggregator seldom gets much attention – certainly compared to it’s sexier aural counterparts – but, like podcasts, they’re an old, established, format which are beginning to enjoy a resurgence.

“We are seeing a significant, if relatively modest, shift towards mobile news aggregators,” the study says. The authors highlight Google News’ 2018 relaunch, as well as the integration of services like Upday, News Republic, and Flipboard into Android’s core operating system.

Key findings:

  • In the United States Apple News already reaches more iPhone users (27%) than the Washington Post (23%) does.
  • Young news users tend to use news aggregators in ‘time filler’ moments, and for the diversity of sources, while more passive news users, often use an aggregator as “an easy way to browse around series of headlines.”
  • Don’t forget that aggregators have long remained popular in parts of SE Asia.
    “It should be noted that mobile aggregation is already majority behaviour in many Asian countries. Yahoo! News reaches two-thirds (66%) of smartphone users in Japan each week, Naver reaches 73% of smartphone users in South Korea, while Line Today reaches 47% of our Taiwanese sample. Local mobile aggregators are also a force in Italy (Giornali, 17%), Norway (Startsiden, 18%), and Sweden (Omni 12%).”

Implications:

  • Publishers are understandably wary of many aggregators, including premium products such as Apple News Plus. Revenue shares (perhaps with lower than expected returns), brand attribution and detachment from other publishers content (and the ease to go deeper into it, compared to say using a publisher’s news app) are legitimate concerns.
  • Content discovery via social, search and going direct to a news outlet, tends to still be more popular. As a result, we shouldn’t overstate this trend (no one is talking about the pivot-to-aggregators just yet). Nevertheless, this is a space worth watching, and one where major monetization challenges – and concerns about platform power – will once again rear its head.
Image: New aggregator use in major geographic markets

Final Thoughts

“There is no sign that the majority of people are about to pay for online news, although many recognise that information on the internet is often overwhelming and confusing,” the report concludes.

“Media users all over the world continue to flock to digital websites and platforms, and engage with many kinds of journalism online and offline. But we are still some way from finding sustainable digital business models for most publishers,” the authors caution.

Moreover, they note earlier:

“Younger audiences in particular don’t want to give up instant, frictionless (and ideally free) access to range of diverse voices and opinions.

They don’t want to go back to how the media used to be.”  

Publishers ignore these media trends – and the consumer philosophies which underpin them – at their peril.

Read more at: http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/

Download WNIP’s comprehensive new report—50 Ways to Make Media Pay—an essential read for publishers looking at the multiple revenue opportunities available, whether it’s to reach new audiences or double down on existing super-users. The report is free and can be downloaded here.

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