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Register Forges Mobile Future In Orange Co.

In a market overshadowed by northern neighbor Los Angeles, The Orange County Register is testing the possibilities offered by nascent mobile technology.
NetNewsCheck,

When the future of mobile news comes up, talk of The Orange County Register is apt to follow.

The newspaper’s OCRegister.com is the dominant local news site in its 3 million-population market, registering visits from 22% of adults in a given month, according to The Media Audit of Houston.

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But these days, it’s not the Web site that is generating buzz, but a new mobile app strategy espoused by owner Freedom Communications Inc.

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Freedom’s Interactive division rolled out its latest iPad app for the Register this spring. Instead of trying to capture the feel of the print publication -- as many papers do -- the company targeted a specific demographic audience and designed a mobile product catering to that audience’s tastes.

“We’re building our products around audiences now,” Freedom Interactive president Doug Bennett explained. “It’s not about an iPad. It’s about an audience that we’re after.”

The result is an app -- free, for now -- aimed at 35- to 45-year-olds. Sophisticated graphics allow greater interaction (such as scratching away the side of a car with your finger to take a look inside) and only a modest 60 stories are published each day, on reader-friendly subjects such as sports and trending topics. “Things to do,” local news, business and photos and videos round out the app’s six categories of offerings.

Not represented are the more staid newspaper topics of politics, commentary, classified ads and obituaries.

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The product is put together by a small team created for the task. It publishes at 6 p.m., given that research that shows iPad users like to lean back and read their devices in the evening. Stories are not updated during the day, except in a few areas, where widgets do the job.

Other targeted iPad apps are on the way, Bennett said.

One aimed at traditional, over-50 newspaper readers is expected by the end of the year, he said. It will look more like a print newspaper and -- unlike its more youthful cousin -- will be updated throughout the day.

Another iPad app will target the 18- to 24-year-old readers of Freedom’s OrangeCounty.com site, which focuses on such lighthearted fare as travel, surfing and entertainment. It should also be out late this year, Bennett said.

These iPad apps will join the multitude of smart phone apps Freedom offers for iPhone, Android and Blackberry platforms. “We have almost 60 apps out right now and we have new apps coming out every quarter,” he said.

Among those expected to arrive in the next couple of months are phone apps to deliver hyperlocal community news and high school sports, he said.

Compare all this activity to that of other players in the Orange County market.

Nonprofit news site VoiceofOC.org has no apps, according to editor in chief and co-founder Norberto Santana Jr., although it will probably offer one by the end of the year. The site, which went live in March 2010, focuses on government and investigative stories, and is paid for by contributions from the local county employees’ union and others interested in Orange County government.

OCWeekly.com, an alternative news site visited by 4.9% of local adults, added an iPhone and Android app last year, managing editor Gustavo Arellano said.

Despite its relatively small audience, OCWeekly ranks second among news sites based here.

Local advertisers spent more than $1 billion to reach the market’s well-heeled shoppers last year, a number expected to grow to almost $1.5 billion in 2015, according to media consultants Borrell Associates.

But Orange County residents are likely to turn to media outlets in neighboring Los Angeles for their news. LATimes.com, at 15%, has an audience second only to the Register’s here (if you exclude national sites like Yahoo).

ABC, CBS and NBC stations based in Los Angeles follow in audience size, with 14.6%, 9.4% and 8.4% respectively, according to the Audit numbers.

But, given all the cutbacks at news organizations, the Los Angeles media no longer covers Orange County with much depth, said Santana. Orange County’s media market “is quite a dead landscape to be honest with you,” said Arellano.

The meatiest media gossip here is the ongoing speculation over who might buy the Register. MediaNews Group, owner of The Denver Post, has been considered the most likely suitor, but a June Wall Street Journal article said the parties could not agree on a price.

There is also a newcomer to the market -- AOL’s Patch. But Santana said Patch’s impact is small compared to that of his own site’s. “They don’t go into the depth -- anywhere near. Not to criticize them. They’re just younger.”

OCWeekly’s Arellano is more blunt, “There are Patches here but nobody reads them because they’re worthless.”

Bennett said Patch’s hyperlocal sites have not taken away much from the Register, which itself publishes 27 community newspapers and lets its Web site visitors choose from 43 communities listed in a “City-by-City News” section.

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Comments (1) -

Cindy Stiff posted over 5 years ago
Excellent strategy. Makes me miss journalism because I would like to be involved in the strategic analysis of audience. Congratulations on taking a different tact from most newspapers.

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