7 Key Trends in Digital Media Consumption

From the new Reuters Institute study.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released its annual Digital News Report (supported by Edelman, among others) yesterday, and its findings are both expected and, in some ways, discouraging.

Here’s the group’s video summary of its own research, along with some overly optimistic music. The most important sentence? “Making money from news is hard.”

It is!

Here are our key takeaways from the research.

1. Everyone hates ads

It’s true that a slight majority of respondents (53 percent) don’t use ad blocking software at all.

But that still leaves a whole lot of people who do. They install it on their laptops (41 percent), their phones (11 percent), and even their tablets (7 percent). Percentages were a bit higher in the U.S. than in the U.K., which tells us that young Americans are even more cynical about advertising…hence the rise of agencies that don’t do traditional ads.

This is somewhat encouraging for PR because, while the ROI for such ads is technically easy to measure, it’s often very low.

2. Everyone ALSO dislikes sponsored content

This special report makes clear that readers aren’t too keen on the “editorial” alternative to pop-ups and banner ads, either. This is not good news for PR.

1 in 3 American readers say they see sponsored stuff “sometimes,” and more than that (43 percent) say they’ve felt “disappointed and/or deceived” by the practice.

Young people raised on BuzzFeed listicles were less likely to say so, but overall the surveyed sample agreed that the use of sponsored stories in serious news verticals damages a given news outlet’s credibility…which may be why Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal basically called it a deal with the devil.

Sponsored content in the fashion/travel/lifestyle verticals, however, is totally fine.

3. No one uses news apps

A majority of readers in the U.S. or Europe use either one news app or none at all (graph via The Media Briefing). This tells us a couple of things: most readers go back to the same source over and over again, and they don’t use news apps even when they download them.

We get it: yes, we downloaded the Slate app. But we’re far more likely to read Slate stories when they appear on Twitter or Facebook.

The leaders in social media referrals won’t surprise anyone.

facebook-dominates

4. Some digital properties are growing while others are shrinking

On that point, certain digital properties have taken advantage of this new ecosystem in which most readers arrive via links shared on social media.

Some have not.

Here are the most commonly accessed online news sources for American consumers:

chart(1)What the chart doesn’t tell you is that BuzzFeed more than doubled its reach over the past year while more “traditional” digital properties like Yahoo and MSN lost ground.

At the same time, BBC is reaching more American readers than ever before. This tells us that, while the model is ripe for “disruption,” success is less about being new than being strategic.

(Note that outlets like Vice, Fusion, Daily Dot and Mic don’t appear on the list at all.)

5. Local news is in a nosedive

Local TV and (digital) local news sites have both lost audience share in recent years.

Check out this graph from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism:

local news

Ouch.

Another interesting finding: despite all its various flubs, CNN is the only national news channel to have increased its viewership over the past three years.

6. No one wants to pay for news

This is the hardest pill to swallow for everyone with a job that touches the media world.

  • 66.7 of respondents said “I will never pay for digital news”
  • Among those who were willing to pay, the average yearly fee to which they agreed was $8.39

The big takeaway here is that digital properties just aren’t going to expand via paid subscriptions, no matter the price or quality of their content. The only people who might be convinced to spend more money are the ones who already subscribe.

This trend will almost certainly not encourage higher-quality journalism at, say, The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. Their audiences are well-established.

7. Everyone loves to comment

We run another blog notorious for its comment section, so we generally don’t think too highly of such spaces.

That said, well over 25 percent of readers comment on either news stories themselves or the social media posts that share them.

So if we’re talking unpleasant market research, comment threads are a gold mine…just don’t expect to emerge with a more optimistic opinion on human nature.

What do we take from these findings?