Reuters Digital News Report: Live blogs, smart TVs and paid content

It is a measure of how well respected the Reuters Institute Digital News Report is in how much coverage it received. Most of the attention was focused on the rise in people paying for digital content, but there were a few things that leapt out at me including some fascinating figures of digital media use in Brazil and in-depth coverage of live blogs, news via smart TVs and digging into paid content trends.

Urban Brazil: Social media standout

Most of the last year, in my work with the Media Development Investment Fund, I’ve been focused on the development of digital media outside of North America and western Europe so I paid a lot of attention to statistics from urban Brazil.

With all of the talk about the ubiquity of Twitter in the UK, I would have expected more Brits to have turned to social media to access news than the report found. In the survey, 87 percent of Brits in the YouGov online poll said they turned to traditional news brands with only 31 percent saying that they had turned to social media and blogs.

What was more surprising was that out of the nine countries in the report, Brazil stood out for the highest percentage of respondents saying that they had accessed news via social media at 57 percent. Now, this was urban Brazilians. It would be interesting to see this broken out by rural versus urban populations in other countries just as a point of comparison. It would also be interesting to see research in countries like Malaysia or Indonesia, southeastern social media giants.

Traditional news brands versus aggregators versus social media from Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2013

In another part of the survey, urban Brazilians were off the charts when compared with other countries in terms of participation around news – sharing, commenting, voting and rating. The survey found that 93 percent of Brazilian respondents participated with news in one of the 12 listed techniques. Again, I’d be interested to see if urban users in other countries used the internet in different ways that the population as a whole. (One other interesting thing about sharing news is how popular email remains to pass along news items.)

Live blogging: More engaged audiences

Working with a range of news organisations in the past three years, one area of intense interest has been live blogs. For newspapers, it allows them to play in the breaking news game with broadcasters. Live blogs, especially around major events, can be resource intensive, taking the time of a number of journalists. The question has always been: News organisations seem to like live blogs. Do audiences?

Neil Thurman with City University London answered that question emphatically. He wrote:

According to the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, who oversees the UK’s second most popular newspaper website, live blogs outperform all other modes of online journalism.1 Such anecdotal evidence is supported by hard data showing that live blogs receive more visitors for longer periods of time than conventional articles or picture galleries on the same subject..

Live blogs are especially popular with heavy internet users, he said, and the survey found that 62 percent of UK respondents found them a “convenient way of following news while I am at work”. The other interesting finding is that the short, quick updates common to live blogs work well on mobile devices, a platform that 79 percent of news consumers in the UK used for getting their news fix during the day.

Thurman’s findings were largely positive, although he stopped short of saying that it was helping readers to become more interested in hard news and public affairs. He would say:

what we can say is that, because the format has developed uniquely for the web, and matches so well with readers’ consumption patterns, it seems to appeal as much through its form as its content.

Smart TVs as a platform for interactive news?

For the past several years, I’ve been watching the development of smart TVs and other digital devices that bridge traditional television and the internet. I’m thinking far beyond IPTV and catch-up services and much more about internet services over TV screens. Traditional TV still commands a large percentage of attention in terms of media, and as Dan Brilot of YouGov points out, 97 percent of the UK population now has access to digital television. Brilot considers the possibilities of bringing internet content onto this popular and ubiquitous platform.

I have to admit, my enthusiasm for these services far outstrips their general popularity. In the US, about 9 percent have ever used a smart TV and about 4 percent have ever used a smart TV to access news. Smart TVs are much more popular in European countries such as Spain, Italy, France and Demark, with smart TV usage hovering around 15 percent. This is still pretty low in terms of use.

Brilot quotes Gartner statistics saying that by 2016 85 percent of all flat panel TVs sold will be smart TVs. My question is whether people will actually use these services. Last year, I was staying with a friend who had started his own internet company, he was totally unaware that he could connect his TV to his home network.

In that vein, I don’t really find statistics looking at popular apps as all that relevant. So what if Facebook is really popular on smart TVs in the UK if only 10 percent of those polled ever had used a smart TV?

More interesting was the research looking at what types of apps would be popular based on polls in the France and the UK. On screen news alerts, I would assume similar to tablet or smartphone notifications were the most popular internet news format, followed by news video clips. News text and tickers were quite popular with French respondents with about 50 percent saying that they were interested in those kinds of apps. Weather maps were also popular in both France and the UK.

Interest in news applications for smart TVs from Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2013

Brilot was surprised about the popularity of news alerts considering they would interrupt TV viewing.

One of the major issues with apps on smart TVs is fragmentation in the market. News providers don’t really have the resources to build apps for all of the platforms, and although Android set-top boxes are being sold, there is no one provider that dominates.

Paid content: Growth from a low base

Paid content has become an important source of revenue for some news organisations such as the New York Times in the past few years, and the report looked at the growth of paid content over the last year. Those paying rose in some countries in the survey including the UK, France and the US, but it also fell in Germany and Denmark. In the UK, those paying rose by 5 percent to 9 percent of those polled. Sure, you can say that was almost double the rate of last year, but it is still a relatively small part of the audience.

Robert Picard did find that across all of the countries in the survey, of those who don’t pay, about 15 percent said that they would be willing to pay amongst all news consumers and almost 20 percent amongst “news lovers”.

However, as Nic Newman found, 50 percent of those surveyed said that they had paid for a newspaper in the last week but only 5 percent said that they had paid for digital content. Digital paid content is still a long way from being a mass behaviour.

One last thing I found interesting is that digital subscriptions were more common in countries where print subscriptions were the norm versus single copy sales, and in country where single copy sales were the norm, then users were more willing to buy digital day passes.

I do hope that next year that the Reuters Institute are able to expand their research to more emerging markets. It would be fascinating to compare across a wider range of markets, but even with these nine countries, there is a wealth of information. It’s great to back up or knock on their head a lot of assumptions about digital media audiences.