No area of the media business presents a more fascinating challenge than building a commercially viable publishing proposition on the mobile platform.
Audience preference to use their smartphones to get news, and even read longform content, confronts media owners and advertisers with an imperative to create a new model for marketing. In essence, we are beginning to see a battle between the user experience and commercial need.
The popularity of using smartphones for news media consumption will likely drive many strategies for publishers. Industry readership data from emma suggests that digital devices will become the predominant platform for reading journalism in little more than two years, with most of this growth coming from mobile.
This pace is profound. Web based readership on desktops and laptops could not overhaul print as the most popular form of reading news in 20 years of publishing, yet mobile will likely do this by 2019.
Adoption data in emma, based on recall, suggests that 3.1 million now read news on their phone.
One-third of news media readers now say they post on social media every day and they are twice as likely to engage with a brand on a site, such as Facebook, than the general public. In other words, newspaper mastheads have captured an audience that is digitally-savvy and are not simply seeing print readers move to online (see page 16).
Of course, this should have an impact not only on how media agencies and advertisers see newspaper audiences but also how editors and journalists might frame their content, and sales executives create their commercial narratives.
Another indicator of future device dominance has been the release in October of new mobile ratings from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Nielsen, which has made its first attempt at capturing usage of smartphones. This preview data is based on a panel and suggests a much higher rate of usage than reported in recall-data cited by emma.
The Nielsen numbers were drawn from 2,000 smartphone and 500 tablet users. In early 2016, this report will be replaced by Digital Ratings Monthly, which will fuse smartphone and tablet panel data with Nielsen’s home/work PC panel data and tagged website data.
The challenge for the media sector has been neatly summed up by Fairfax Media’s commercial director, Tom Armstrong, who was speaking of his own business when he said: “A key focus as a publisher is to build market confidence in mobile advertising.”
All publishers would echo these sentiments as each builds out its mobile strategy alongside endeavours in print and on the web in general.
In the midst of these industry developments around mobile has been the re-emergence of ad-blocking.
Apple re-lit the fuse by enabling blocking on its new iPhone models. Publishers are increasingly responding to ad- blockers by either refusing to serve content, or steering readers to a subscription page. An argument, currently being run by the global news publisher body, WAN-IFRA, suggests ads are blocked because advertisements on many digital platforms are poorly executed, which has reduced the quality of the user experience.
Eliminating intrusive ad formats and reducing the number of ads might improve the user experience, but can this be done without decimating advertising revenues, and making online publishing uneconomical? Herein lies this battle between reader experience and commercial imperative.
Given the constraints of mobile as an advertising medium, and current perceived lack of engagement and value, perhaps subscription services will become the short-term revenue play.
Monitoring the various commercial approaches of peers around the world is invaluable for publisher and advertiser alike right now.
CEO, The Newspaper Works