Combine the enduring strength of media brands with emerging mobility reading habits: the result could boost digital news.
The equation in the headline is based on a simple, important fact: By and large, digital users still trust old news outlets. In the new world, media brands are far from dead, predictions of their extinction have been vastly exaggerated. In fact, we can see an opportunity for the new reading patterns seen in smartphone and tablet to provide welcome help to legacy media in their painful transition.
Last week, the Poynter Institute released interesting data. Surveying Americans who define themselves as news consumers:
=> 53% get their primary digital news from web native outlets (Huffington Post, portals like Yahoo, AOL, or shallow verticals like Drudge or TMZ -- the celebrity news-breaker).
=> 83% seek a secondary source for confirmation or amplification right after getting breaking news.
=> 60% do so by relying on established media brands such as the digital version of newspapers, TV networks, etc.
Let's pause for a moment and reflect on the latest figure, the six-out-of-ten who go for the trusted brands.
Traditional media missed the train for digital breaking breaking news; this is barely a surprise. We know the factors only too well: newsrooms were too slow to catch the wave; publishers didn't foresee the audience battle; they didn't invest in relevant technologies, they got swamped in the battle of free vs. paid; they stayed fixated on avoiding cannibalization of the (dying) flagship product, newspapers, broadcast news, etc. In doing so, legacy outlets left an open field for more agile, less scrupulous, traffic-obsessed young ventures. The new entrants started with a blank slate which, indeed, cannibalized the old league thanks to their speed and ubiquity.
As a result, a new vulgate emerged: newcomers would eat "old" brands alive. They would do this by capturing every segment of news: the "commodity" format (near-live news, same everywhere for everyone, and free); the sophisticated treatments (long forms, in-depth reporting, profile...). Pundits speculated the Yahoos and the Googles of the new Digital World Order would soon hire talent and build newsrooms giants from scratch.
Fact is: it didn't happen. Some internet brands did a great job addressing niches in politics, society or business. But, broadly speaking, once the predictions dust settled, ancestral brands seems to have been able to salvage the quality part of their franchise. Unfortunately, this one is the costliest and the less audience-driving segment. The HuffPo might have a huge audience, its readers are essentially looking for snapshots of news. For serious complement, they go for the New York Times or the trusted brand of their preference.
As for social media, the Poynter survey reframes the debate in a rather blunt way:
Despite all the social sharing buttons littering news sites, the study finds the top methods of sharing news are still word of mouth and email. (See earlier:Limited use of sharing buttons Sharing buttons look "a little desperate".)
Having said that, for the younger generation, social networks are a key source of primary news: 35% of the Generation Y, 23% of the Gen X and 11% of the Boomers find their news there. As they get older and better educated, they could, supposedly, rely more on traditional media.
Let's now talk about the Grand Disruption, namely how the rise of the smartphone and tablet impacts the news. According to the Poynter survey, established media benefit more from mobile devices than web native sources do. It goes like this:
The prime reason is reader engagement. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, exposes this in two 90-page surveys : The Future of Mobile News, produced in collaboration withe the Economist Group (PDF here), and the Trends in News Consumption 1991-2012 (PDF here).
First, the 11-years evolution of how people "got their news yesterday":
The rise of the mobile is obvious (So is the free fall of the newspaper.) According to the Pew survey:
=> Among smartphone users (44% of the US adults) : 62% get their news weekly and 36% daily.
=> Among tablet users (22% of the US adults): 64% get their news weekly and 37% daily.
In addition, numbers reveal a high level of engagement among tablet users:
=> 78% read more than one in-depth article during a sitting (nine times out of ten for personal interest).
... and the tablet appears to be a remarkable vector for serendipitous use:
=> 72% of users end up reading in-depth articles they were not initially looking for.
More broadly, the tablet format induces further reading:
=> 69% end up reading a full article after checking headlines.
And more than one device equals more time with news:
To close the loop, the Pew survey confirms the Poynter's findings on the preeminence of trusted brands on mobile -- and more specifically on tablets as 60% of tablet users read long form journalism from publications they regularly keep up with.
The tablet is indeed the next bing thing for media. Apple is no longer the only one (I put my hand on the €200 Google Nexus 7 and it's an excellent product). The market is now poised for a real takeoff. The tablet is the most favored vector for more in-depth news -- which is legacy media's core value proposition. And since device and media both address the most solvent segment of the population, a sustainable model is bound to emerge.