AppCheck: WTOP

WTOP App Hybridizes With Mobile Web

WTOP's relaunched news app, which combines a native app home page with the station's mobile site, streamlines advertising and makes it easier for the newsroom to make changes on the fly. The app has helped boost WTOP's mobile traffic, which now makes up 10% of its total digital traffic.
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When serious storms hit Washington, D.C., this summer, WTOP realized the power of the app.

“It happened on a Friday night, and everybody’s power went out,” said John Meyer, director of digital media at the news radio station. “People couldn’t go to their computers and they may or may not have radios, but everyone had their phones. It was really a wake up for us because this was the first event where we were really positioned to have a product that could solve people’s need for information.

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“We saw our mobile usage go up 30% that night.”

WTOP, which is owned by Hubbard Media, had been in the smartphone space before with a previous iteration of its app, but the station jettisoned it in favor of pushing its mobile site. The new app, which was released this summer as “The Glass-Enclosed News App,” is actually a hybrid of the two.

That means that after viewers open up a native app home page, various interior pages actually open up a mobile browser inside of the app’s frame and lead users to the mobile site. The reason for this approach was pragmatic, Meyer said.

The back-end difficulty of serving ads across multiple platforms and devices was part of that. “It was becoming too complicated to have all of these various entry points,” he said.

Brand Connections

By keeping most of the app’s content based in the mobile site, which ties directly to WTOP’s proprietary CMS, Meyer said it also allows the newsroom to make more changes on the fly.

Paul Jacobs VP and GM of Jacobs Media, which designed the app, said his company is increasingly taking this approach to design. “Particularly when you’re dealing with something in real time like traffic or even weather, it’s just very smooth to pull up a mobile webpage very quickly and conveniently,” he said. “If we can leverage the benefits of both [native apps and mobile Web], why not?”

Meyer said that about 10% of WTOP’s digital traffic comes in through mobile right now, a number that’s growing. And part of what’s drawing that traffic is traffic itself — that is the literal roadway kind, which in Washington, D.C., is some of the nation’s worst.

“It’s fantastic for business,” Meyer said, noting that WTOP has its own proprietary traffic program which taps into live cameras across the city, allowing viewers to customize their routes and literally see what they’re in for on their commutes.

With 10 full-time journalists assigned strictly to WTOP’s digital content, there’s plenty of news to feed the app. In addition to offering text versions of news stories, it also live streams the station’s broadcast and features an “on demand” list of audio stories from which users can select.

The app monetizes with a splash screen space and display ads within, and while it’s not yet a huge revenue driver on its own, Meyer said it was necessary to compete with the big players in the fierce D.C. market.

“To be a news leader in Washington, D.C., we have to be on the same platforms as everybody else,” he said. “We have to think outside the traditional radio bucket.”


Vital stats:

Vendor: Jacobs Media

Launched: Summer 2012

Downloads: Over 10,000 since relaunch, plus an additional 300,000 mobile Web unique users

Cost to consumer: Free

Compatible devices: iPhone and Android

White label version: Yes

Revenue streams: Splash screen and display ads

Key characteristics: A news app which disperses its content across the native app while sending users back to WTOP’s mobile site in some sections. Features news headlines, traffic and weather, plus on demaind audio content and live streaming.

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