Mobile apps and alternative online news sources are shaping the new journalistic organisation in Australia

Online news media engagement results released in the last month show a growing need for Australian news media companies to engage consumers through their mobile apps. In addition, data shows that the deck chairs in online news are shifting. Whilst the incumbent local news providers still claim top honors in audience engagement in Australia, overseas services/alternate news providers (typically free services) are increasing audience penetration in UK and US markets with some signs of local growth. Whilst a clear strategy for engagement through mobile apps is important now, a competitive strategy to combat the growing popularity of alternate news is needed…very soon. These factors combined will the development of new kinds of journalistic organisations globally and in Australia.

Last week Nielsen published its audience results for online news. The headline results show that Australian-based incumbents such as, and ABC news sites are still ahead of major international players such as The Guardian. In addition, Sydney Morning Herald has jumped to the top of the table in terms of audience but still lags its closest rival on time spent on site with having +20mins more engagement time over the month. Interestingly, people spend on average 1hr and 27mins on over the course of a month – this is just less than 3mins per day – Are we really engaged?

Nielsen’s results this month also provided insight into how Australians consume their news. Through the IAB-Nielsen mobile pilot, an industry wide mobile measurement panel, we now have figures about how we connect through applications (apps). The first insights show consumers spending 18hrs per month on mobile and 15hrs per month on tablet news apps. Compared to the web properties this is a significantly higher level of engagement. How does this Australian data compare globally?

Last month Reuters released its 2014 Digital News Report, a yearly survey of 10 nations outlining online news consumption trends. Australia is not one of the countries involved in the survey but those surveyed are representative of the larger economies in Europe, North and South America and Japan. A key finding in the report is the growth in mobile devices (smartphone or tablet) to access news with 37% of respondents in all countries surveyed using a mobile device to access news. This correlates to figures on apps. In the UK, 50% of smartphone users engage apps to read their news, an increase of 6% since 2013.

The survey shows variability between countries on app usage with a country like Finland having a higher preference for web browser news than news apps. What is clear however is that smartphone users (as opposed to tablets) tend to use more apps (67% in UK). Australian new media companies need to assess their digital strategy to make choices on engaging consumers through apps or browsers and incorporating the functionality of smartphones into their engagement experience. The battle ground for news will most likely be won in an app.

The Reuters survey also outlines the growth alternative news sites. Huffpost and Buzzfeed account for over 20% of weekly news engagement in the US and over 10% in the UK. Add to this the trend of accessing social networks for news (37% of survey respondents in US access Facebook for news weekly, 22% in the UK) and there is an increasingly changing landscape for online news media. These sites are yet to feature in Australian reports but will no doubt become increasingly popular. Australian news media companies will soon need to determine how their online properties will compete. I believe these strategies need to differentiate on functionality and engagement features rather than content.

The online news landscape continues to change with new waves of disruption. Mobile and social consumption is reaching a higher level of intensity globally with similar trends emerging in Australia. Adapting is about making choices – choices that will turn online news incumbents into a new kind of journalistic organisation.


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