09 June 2016
Nic Newman is Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism where he writes on changing audience behaviour and the impact of technology on journalism. Along with Institute Director, David Levy, he will be presenting the findings of the 2016 Reuters Institute Digital News Report at the GEN Summit.
In this Interview, Nic Newman gives us a little preview of what we can expect from the report, that is the largest ongoing study of news consumption in the world, covering 26 countries and based on a survey of over 50,000 people. The report will cover things we expect, like the rise of social media-driven news and the growth of videos and adblockers, but there will be some suprise too: "I was expecting mobile aggregators like Apple News to be more important than they seem to be. This is one new platform that is not yet exciting consumers in a big way."
In the last year, platforms' role as news distributors increased exponentially. Where do you see this trend, which is also the central theme of the upcoming GEN Summit, going? How can it evolve?
A key theme of our report this year is the rise of platforms and social media in particular – and the implications of this. Facebook, Snapchat, Apple and Google have moved beyond news discovery to become destinations and platforms for consumption and we see that in the data that we’ll be presenting at the GEN Summit. But it is also interesting to note that, a) these trends are happening at different speeds in different countries – and b) it is not all about Facebook.
In Japan and Korea, for example, we see that the majority of online news is already distributed through giant platforms like Yahoo, Naver and Daum. Publishers have been doing deals with those platforms for years so we can pick up a few clues about what might happen elsewhere. Publishers have been able to reach new audiences with content, but there is a trade off. It has made it much harder to stand out from the crowd, create direct relationships with audiences or monetise content. In that sense the aggregators have already gained an incredibly strong position in those countries relative to publishers. That is likely to have big implications as the move to digital accelerates
Facebook is swallowing journalism and publishing companies. Is it fate? Is there something publishers can do?
I don’t think it is inevitable or that there is nothing publishers can do. Yes, Facebook has scale, data and a huge number of engaged users, but it will never be the perfect platform for news because it is trying to do too many other things. Publishers need, in my view, to be more proactive about creating great on-site experiences for their loyal users, while using distributed platforms to market their wares and acquire new customers. It’s really about balancing destination and distribution.
What about messaging apps and dark social? Their rise was highlighted in your report “Media, Journalism and Technology Predictions 2016”. Can they become active players in the news landscape?
It is hard to generalise. Some messaging apps are trying to become portals for a wide range of content and services, others are sticking to the core task which makes it harder for publishers to push content into the networks. In many cases users are looking to communicate with each other and they don’t want publishers interrupting those conversations. The key thing is to be clear about which audiences are most important to reach, the opportunities of each platform and then use the data to define which – if any – will be relevant for newsgathering, engagement or distribution.
Again there are regional differences here. Kakao and Line play a big role in some Asian countries with WhatsApp important in Brazil and some European countries. In terms of news, we don’t see Snapchat making much impact outside the United States as yet.
What else can we expect from the report this year?
We’ll be revealing the latest data on who is paying for news in each country, how much they are paying on average and the balance between one off payments and ongoing payments. As this preview chart shows, some counties like the Nordics, Australia and the US have been successful in driving high-value subscriptions. This is in sharp contrast with countries like France, Spain, Ireland and Italy where payment tends to be lower-value single editions.
Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2016
Picking up on these themes, New York Times CEO Mark Thompson writes an essay in the report detailing how the New York Times is viewing the challenging new economics of news, trying to balance reach and return.
One other very interesting trend highlighted in your predictions report earlier this year was the growing war with adblockers. What can we expect about this topic from the report?
We’ll be providing comprehensive data on adblocking across 26 countries for the first time: the rate of blocking; the devices used, and the reasons why people do it. The bad news for publishers is that people who consume most content are amongst the most likely to use an adblocker – and we also see that once people download a blocker they rarely go back.
What is interesting, though, is that this new threat is forcing publishers to talk to each other –something they don’t normally do. We document in the report how publishers in Sweden, France and Spain – among others – have started to take co-ordinated action to educate users and try to get sites whitelisted. None of that is likely to work, however, unless the quality of online advertising also improves and that demands an even wider industry rethink. Sponsored content is part of that, but it is also about ensuring that advertising is relevant, engaging, mobile friendly and appears at the right point in the user journey (i.e. not interruptive).
What about the boom of online video content – what can we expect in the report?
Everyone is excited about the opportunities around video. At the beginning of the year the vast majority of CEO’s and editors in our digital leaders survey (79%) told us that they planned to invest more in online video and we’ve certainly been witnessing this expansion on websites and through social media. We’ll have some surprising data about how fast or slowly news video is growing in different countries and on different platforms and what some of the barriers are to growth, which remain considerable.
Source: Reuters Institute Digital Leaders Survey 2016
(118 companies surveyed, excluding 12 don't knows/did not answer)
Did anything else surprise you in the data this year?
I was expecting mobile aggregators like Apple News to be more important than they seem to be. This is one new platform that is not yet exciting consumers in a big way.
I think the other thing relates to the continuing importance of brands and the trusted journalism they produce. Despite the gloom around the business side, traditional media companies in particular remain hugely valued — and widely used — by consumers young and old. The brands that people use most and rely on most tend to be those that have a strong track record in providing accurate and high quality journalism. We’ll be revealing the results of survey and focus group work on these issues at the GEN Summit in Vienna.
Nic Newman and David Levy, Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism will present the "2016 Reuters Institute Digital News Report: The Role of News Brands in a Distributed World" at the sixth annual GEN Summit in Vienna, Austria on 16 June. Register here.