Newspapers Strong Online Contenders
The digital world, with its distinctive capacity for tracking activity, delivers a near-bewildering array of indicators for publishers to measure progress. Unique visitors, visits, page views, time, reach, composition and clicks are a few of the usual topline metrics. The mobile component adds others, such as taps and swipes. Publishers also examine elements such as online video completion rates and ponder the meaning of follows and likes in social media.
Audience measurement issues revolving around electronic media, looked at broadly, are nothing new. More than 90 years after the first commercial radio broadcast, controversy erupted when portable people-meter-measurement devices were deployed. More than half a century after the advent of broadcast television, disagreements persist between networks and advertisers about how to count viewers.
Beyond problems of how to count basic audience, online publishers have a particular interest in assessing engagement with digital content. One measure — but by no means the best or even the only measure — is time spent with the content. Since not all content is alike, the time spent with different types of content will vary as will the frequency with which the audience engages with the content. Watching videos on YouTube can chew up much time, as will listening to favorite channels on Pandora or Spotify. And digital consumers may or may not engage with the same content every day. For example, you might ignore checking the weather online each day when the forecast for the week is sunny and hot.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that digital channels primarily devoted to news occupy less audience time than other types of channels. Following the exploits of the fictional Jack Bauer online after the premiere of a new season of 24 is oddly more compelling for many people than reading about the real-life turmoil induced by spetsnaz in eastern Ukraine and reported by news organizations.
Measurements tracked by comScore for March 2014 show that while Yahoo News leads with 4.6 minutes per visit and 2.5 minutes with a mobile device, time spent with newspaper digital content is very competitive with other news sources on a per visit basis. Newspapers show 3.5 minutes per visit with 2.0 minutes per visit with a mobile device. (NAA Newspaper Aggregate is a tracking by comScore of the domestic U.S. audience engaging with U.S. newspaper digital content, excluding online-only publishers. It is an unduplicated [net] audience.) That ranks very slightly behind CBS Local (3.9 minutes total, 2.0 minutes mobile) and ahead of CNN (3.1, 2.3), NBC-owned television stations (2.9, 1.7), Huffington Post Global (2.9, 1.9), the Weather Channel (2.8, 1.7) and Buzzfeed.com (2.6, 2.1).
Thus it is difficult on this basis to conclude, as some observers do, that newspaper digital content somehow has a weaker engagement with the public.
And there are other aspects of engagement masked by the lack of precision with today’s digital toolsets, however granular those measures may be. Consumers exposed to newspaper digital content through social media venues and through aggregators — like Yahoo — are underrepresented in the audience counts.
All of which means the newspaper sector online is stronger than generally perceived by some observers.
Jim Conaghan, a regular CrowdCheck contributor, is VP of research and industry analysis at the Newspaper Association of America.