Expert Commentary

Future of mobile news: Growth in mobile audiences and what it means

2012 report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism on the rise of mobile news and emerging data on audience habits and reading/buying patterns.

The widespread adoption of mobile devices by the American public carries with it important implications for the future of news, both in terms of new modes of delivery and business models for monetizing content. Questions remain, as users’ habits continue to develop in a fluid environment. These include: Will a mobile news future mean a more superficial media environment, based purely on short, “snackable” stories and characterized by mere browsing of headlines? Will the tablet form in particular promote renewed interest in deeper, long-form content? Will the mobile news world in fact promote a generation of more engaged news consumers, as constant updates and social sharing features foster habits of greater engagement? Finally, will audiences pay for mobile news apps and online subscriptions, and at what rate will readers click through ads running with news content on smaller mobile screens?

A 2012 report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Economist Group, “The Future of Mobile News,” is based on a survey of 9,513 U.S. adults; 4,638 were users of a mobile device. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for results based on tablet owners and 5.4 percentage points for tablet news users; it is 2.4 percentage points for smartphone owners and 4.7 percentage points for smartphone news users.

The report’s findings include:

  • An estimated 50% of U.S. adults now own either a tablet device or smartphone that connects to the Internet; 66% of these device users say they get news from these mobile devices. Forty-four percent of adults own a smartphone, while 22% own a tablet (and 23% of those without a tablet expect to get one in the next half-year period).
  • “There is growing evidence that mobile devices are adding to how much news people get.As many as 43% say the news they get on their tablets is adding to their overall news consumption. And almost a third, 31%, said they get news from new sources on their tablet. The increases in news activity is heaviest among those who use all four of the major text-based media for news — computers, smartphones, tablets and print.”
  • For those fearing that mobile is synonymous with “superficial” and will bring about a more headline-driven news environment, there is some encouraging data: “73% of adults who consume news on their tablet read in-depth articles at least sometimes, including 19% who do so daily. Fully 61% of smartphone news consumers at least sometimes read longer stories, 11% regularly.”
  • “People who get news on their devices multiple times per day, on either the smartphone or tablet, tend to turn to more sources, get news from new sources, read in-depth news articles, watch news videos, and send and receive news through email or social networks.”
  • “Rather than replacing old technology, the introduction of new devices and formats is creating a new kind of ‘multi-platform’ news consumer. More than half, 54%, of tablet news users, for instance, also get news on a smartphone; 77% get news on a desktop/laptop; 50% get news in print, and a quarter get news on all four platforms. Among smartphone news users, 47% still get news in print, while 75% get news on the laptop/desktop device and 28% get news on a tablet.”
  • Certain user behaviors are still in flux, and significant economic implications subsequently hang in the balance. It has yet to be determined whether tablet users will access news primarily through Internet browers or through specially designed apps, often paid for by users, that are tailored for the device. “Fully 60% of tablet news users mainly use the browser to get news on their tablet, just 23% get news mostly through apps and 16% use both equally. In 2011, 40% got news mostly through a browser, 21% mostly through apps and 31% used both equally.”
  • “People notice ads on mobile devices and may be even more likely to click on them than they are to click on other digital ads. Half of mobile news users (49% of tablet news users and 50% of smartphone news users) sometimes or often notice ads when they are getting news on their mobile device. Following or acting on these ads is less common: Roughly 15% click on ads when getting news on one of the mobile devices and about 7% actually buy something.”

“The survey suggests that the broadening of the tablet universe has not made people more likely to pay for content — or at least to pay for news,” the authors conclude. “Indeed, this broader population of tablet owners was somewhat less willing to pay than the first generation of adopters. Just 6% said they have ever paid for news on their tablet, compared with 14% in 2011. But the picture is a little brighter when mobile news users (those who get news on a tablet and/or a smartphone) are asked specifically about paying for digital subscriptions. In all, 19% of mobile news users have some kind of digital news subscription: 14% bundled with print and 9% digital only, with some overlap of those who have both.”

Tags: consumer affairs, telecommunications, mobile tech

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