A New Space and Time for News

This is a guest post by Zohar Dayan, CEO and co-founder of Wibbitz, which provides automated text-to-video technologies.

video_iphoneThe ubiquity of the smartphone is changing content consumption. The space in which we get our news has narrowed from a newspaper broadsheet to a 4-inch screen, and the time in which we do it has expanded from distinct periods in the day into a constant checking and re-checking of various streams of content.

As the time and the space in which we get our news changes, traditional media needs to adapt fit these new parameters. It’s not only about the format in which we deliver content, but also about the times we choose to deliver it. As a newsreading app, Wibbitz is in a position to notice trends about how and when people like to get their news. We’ve come up with a few tips to help journalists plan and format their content to pull in more readers.

The When: Time
Many of us use our commute to work as an opportunity to catch up on news, and this is borne out by data Wibbitz has collected from our app. Peak news video watching times average out to 7 to 9 a.m. worldwide, suggesting – quite logically – that people are most interested in condensed content when they are on the move, during their commute.

For journalists then, the morning is the best time to put out quick hit news that is brief and topical. For pieces that go into more depth and provide heavier analysis, the mid-morning and early evening are best, since people are typically hitting a lull in their productivity and are primed for a break where they can engage more. Celebrity gossip and entertainment news usually do best in the late afternoon or early evening, as people on their commute home look for lighter news.

It’s also interesting to note that the most popular category of news in Wibbitz’s app is ‘technology.’ While this is partially due to the fact that most of our users are early adopters already interested in the tech industry, it also indicates that technology journalism lends itself to the summarized form, whereas political pieces require more context and time invested in reading.

The How: Space
No matter how technologically advanced we might feel we are, the basic format of how we are consuming our content hasn’t actually changed in the last couple of centuries. Despite stratospheric leaps in technology, we are still reading the news in much the same way as the townspeople of Boston read articles written by Silence Dogood (aka Ben Franklin) in the New England Courant newspaper in 1722 – the only difference is that instead of reading words inked on a page, we’re reading pixels on a digital screen.

Now that journalism isn’t confined to the physical space of a broadsheet, there are countless opportunities for reformatting the news in more engaging ways, and journalists should take advantage of the new “spaces” where people are consuming their news. Fortunately, it’s easy to find apps or software to help you transform your straight text content into a more engaging format that better fits a smartphone or tablet screen.

Using data visualization can break up long form text that is difficult to read on a smartphone screen, and an infographic can often catch a reader’s interest much more effectively than plain text. Similarly, audio can offer another avenue for optimizing a text article for smartphone consumption. Consider adding podcasts to your repertoire as a way of attracting an audience that likes to listen to the news on their commute.

While your smartphone screen isn’t great for reading, it’s the perfect medium for watching a short video. Since, as we’ve seen, most people catch up with the news during their commute, video fits into the rhythm of our daily lives as well as our mobile screens. As opposed to the flat, one-dimensional nature of text, video can also encode more information in less time, and present it in a more engaging manner.

By turning to other formats like video, journalists can also leverage the opportunities provided by modern technology to offer more appealing options to advertisers. While print ad sales have been steadily declining, the rise in digital advertising has barely kept up with the gap in the market, with 15 print ad dollars lost for every digital ad dollar gained in 2012. The revenue-generating potential of digital advertising is still largely untapped, and video content offers revenue generation potential that text cannot hope to match. As CPM’s for video average around $25 – a much higher figure than for traditional display advertising – newsrooms can look to video as a way of monetizing their content more effectively.

‘Time is money’ said Ben Franklin, the man who had to pose as a woman in order to get himself read. While we may not need to disguise ourselves in order to catch people’s attention these days, it seems indisputable that the news industry will have to adapt in order to survive changing consumption habits. Today’s news content must be transformed instead of merely transferred. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to content is an outdated model, and journalists now have any number of different ways to present their content to potential readers.