Data dump: US study shows that 39 of top 50 digital news sites now receive more traffic from mobile than desktop

The Pew Research Center in the United States has released its 12th edition of the annual State of the News Media report, which examines the landscape of American journalism and tracks trends related to readership, revenue and device usage. And while the publication doesn’t include a Kiwi perspective, it does provide an in-depth glimpse at many of the changes and challenges that the local media also faces due to digital disruption.

One of the most telling findings from the study was that 39 of the top 50 news sites now receive more traffic to their sites on mobile phones than from desktops. 

However, desktop remains important in terms of driving engagement, with the study showing that mobile users only spend more time per visit than desktop users on ten of the 50 websites listed. What’s more is that the readership of overall readership of each online publication—including new media additions such as Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post—are still consolidated significantly by desktop numbers.   


The study also showed that the way in which readers source news is increasingly being influenced by social media. When it came to the top five sources of political news, readers included Facebook above stalwarts CNN, Fox and NBC. Only local TV was listed higher than the social media juggernaut. 


When pitted against its social media counterparts, Facebook was shown to have the broadest reach in terms of readers using it to access political news.   

Despite their growing reliance on new media channels, readers and viewers are not abandoned legacy platforms quite as quickly as the doomsday prophets suggest. Network and local news channels both enjoyed increased average viewership, leading to an overall increase in evening news numbers. 


Locally, this trend is also evident with One News and Sunday both being perennial inclusions in the list of the top most-watched shows in New Zealand. However, news doesn’t always guarantee viewers, as illustrated by MediaWorks’ decision to review Campbell Live due to its ratings struggles over the last year.

One of the more depressing statistics for news writers in the industry was that they suffered the biggest percentage-based salary declines of all the jobs surveyed. Interestingly, news anchors also didn’t fare too well.   


Interestingly, the study showed that cable news—which includes Fox CCN and MSNBC—suffered an overall viewership dip of around eight percent, indicating that viewers are now turning elsewhere to stay updated. But this isn’t all that surprising given the criticism that is often leveled at these publications for sensationalising news.  


But despite this drop in viewership, the cable news networks are still doing well on the financial front, with revenues remaing steady. And, in what could be seen as tragedy in liberal circles, Fox news is enjoying a particularly profitable trajectory.    


 As is the case in New Zealand, newspaper circulation has in recent years declined substantially in the United States. 


And this has predicatably also led to a decline in overall revenue.

Earlier this year, The Guardian released a depressing gallery showing the decline of the American news room over time, and this has again been reiterated in the Pew Center’s statistics, which showed newsroom employment continuing to plummet. 


There was also bad news magazine industry, with circulation figures dipping for the seventh year in a row. And this downward trend was most pronounced in terms of newsstand sales, which fell by 14 percent. 


On the positive side, magazine subscriptions remained stable.

The decline of the newsroom is largely attributable to the rise in digital, and this is clearly illustrated in the revenue figures, which show the digital channel to be contributing a growing chunk of overall ad spend in the United States.


In New Zealand, mobile still only contributes a small percentage of the overall ad spend in the industry. But if the US study is anything to go by, then mobile ad spend is set to balloon over the next few years. 


It is also interesting to note that Facebook has increased its share of digital display advertising, moving further ahead of Google and now accounting for almost a quarter of the digital display market in the United States. 


Due to its advanced digital maturity, The American market is often cited as a precursor of what could potentially occur in New Zealand. And while the local market is smaller and different in many ways, these statistics do at least provide some guideline of what Kiwi media agencies should prepare for. And this is particularly relevant to the mobile channel, which will over the course of the next few years shift from the periphery to become one of the most important channels to marketers. And when that happens, there certainly won’t be any excuse for failing Google’s mobile-friendly tests when it inevitably changes its algorithms again.

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