News consumption: What are the latest trends?

A poll of of over 75,000 online news consumers in 38 countries was conducted by YouGov. The raw data was then crunched and turned into a Digital News Report by The Reuters Institute. This report has just been published. Within it we gain insights into the progress on new paid online business models, trust and misinformation, the impact of populism, the shift to private messaging apps, and the rise of podcasts.

Who Did this?

The Reuters Institute is the University of Oxford’s research centre on issues affecting news media globally. Think of this as a bridge between daily working journalism and academic study. The name “The Reuters Institute” reflects their core funding coming from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, but they also receive grants from other sources.

What did they find out, what are the most important insights from this?

There is a great deal of detail, hence the best I can do is to simply skin over the surface here. The following bullet points are direct extracts from the report, the sub-headings are my attempt to distill it all into distinct categories.

Who is paying for news and what are the trends?

  • Despite the efforts of the news industry, we find only a small increase in the numbers paying for any online news – whether by subscription, membership, or donation. Growth is limited to a handful of countries mainly in the Nordic region (Norway 34%, Sweden 27%) while the number paying in the US (16%) remains stable after a big jump in 2017.
  • Even in countries with higher levels of payment, the vast majority only have ONE online subscription – suggesting that ‘winner takes all’ dynamics are likely to be important. One encouraging development though is that most payments are now ‘ongoing’, rather than one-offs.
  • In some countries, subscription fatigue may also be setting in, with the majority preferring to spend their limited budget on entertainment (Netflix/Spotify) rather than news. With many seeing news as a ‘chore’, publishers may struggle to substantially increase the market for high-priced ‘single title’ subscriptions. As more publishers launch pay models, over two-thirds (70%) of our sample in Norway and half (50%) in the United States now come across one or more barriers each week when trying to read online news.

What about Facebook, is that still popular, and are other apps rising in popularity?

  • In many countries, people are spending less time with Facebook and more time with WhatsApp and Instagram than this time last year. Few users are abandoning Facebook entirely, though, and it remains by far the most important social network for news.
  • Social communication around news is becoming more private as messaging apps continue to grow everywhere. WhatsApp has become a primary network for discussing and sharing news in non-Western countries like Brazil (53%) Malaysia (50%), and South Africa (49%).
  • People in these countries are also far more likely than in the West to be part of large WhatsApp groups with people they don’t know – a trend that reflects how messaging applications can be used to easily share information at scale, potentially encouraging the spread of misinformation. Public and private Facebook Groups discussing news and politics have become popular in Turkey (29%) and Brazil (22%) but are much less used in Western countries such as Canada (7%) or Australia (7%).

What about Fake News, what specific insights did they have?

  • Concern about misinformation and disinformation remains high despite efforts by platforms and publishers to build public confidence. In Brazil 85% agree with a statement that they are worried about what is real and fake on the internet. Concern is also high in the UK (70%) and US (67%), but much lower in Germany (38%) and the Netherlands (31%).
  • Across all countries, the average level of trust in the news in general is down 2 percentage points to 42% and less than half (49%) agree that they trust the news media they themselves use. Trust levels in France have fallen to just 24% (-11) in the last year as the media have come under attack over their coverage of the Yellow Vests movement. Trust in the news found via search (33%) and social media remains stable but extremely low (23%).

How trusted are the mainstream news outlets?

  • Worries about the quality of information may be good for trusted news brands. Across countries over a quarter (26%) say they have started relying on more ‘reputable’ sources of news – rising to 40% in the US. A further quarter (24%) said they had stopped using sources that had a dubious reputation in the last year. But the often low trust in news overall, and in many individual brands, underlines this is not a development that will help all in the industry.
  • The news media are seen as doing a better job at breaking news than explaining it. Across countries, almost two-thirds feel the media are good at keeping people up to date (62%), but are less good at helping them understand the news (51%). Less than half (42%) think the media do a good job
  • There are also significant differences within countries, as people with higher levels of formal education are more likely to evaluate the news media positively along every dimension than the rest of the population, suggesting that the news agenda is more geared towards the interests and needs of the more educated.

What impact has the Rise of populism had?

  • To understand the rise of populism and its consequences for news and media use, we have used two questions to identify people with populist attitudes, and compared their news and media use with those of non-populists. People with populist attitudes are more likely to identify television as their main source of news, more likely to rely on Facebook for online news, and less likely to trust the news media overall.

Are people avoiding News?

  • More people say they actively avoid the news (32%) than when we last asked this question two years ago. Avoidance is up 6 percentage points overall and 11 points in the UK, driven by boredom, anger, or sadness over Brexit. People say they avoid the news because it has a negative effect on their mood (58%) or because they feel powerless to change events.

What impact is new technology having?

  • The smartphone continues to grow in importance for news, with two-thirds (66%) now using the device to access news weekly (+4pp). Mobile news aggregators like Apple News and Upday are becoming a more significant force. Apple News in the United States now reaches more iPhone users (27%) than the Washington Post (23%).
  • The growth of the smartphone has also been driving the popularity of podcasts, especially with the young. More than a third of our combined sample (36%) say they have consumed at least one podcast over the last month but this rises to half (50%) for those under 35. The mobile phone is the most used device (55%) for podcast listening.
  • Voice-activated smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home continue to grow rapidly. Usage for any purpose has risen from 9% to 12% in the United States, from 7% to 14% in the UK, from 5% to 11% in Canada, and from 4% to 8% in Australia. Despite this, we find that usage for news remains low in all markets.

What Comes Next?

Friction is a concern, people are increasingly encountering paywalls, so what do they suggest comes next?

Our research suggests there may be a disconnect between current publisher strategies of selling individual titles (for a relatively high price) and consumer desire for frictionless access to multiple brands. Almost half of those who are interested in news (49%) consume more than four different online sources each week – a number that rises significantly for under 35s.

Donation models, such as the one operated by the Guardiannewspaper – and some local news organisations in the United States – have been suggested as an alternative to paywalls, but these still make up a small percentage of the market. In the last year just 3% in the United States gave money to a news organisation, 2% in Spain, and 1% in the UK.

Another alternative could be bundling and aggregation. The Timesof London offers free access to the Wall Street Journal while theWashington Post bundles cheaper access via Amazon Prime. The New York Times is offering a joint subscription with Scribd while Dagens Nyheter in Sweden is partnering with Bookbeat around audio and ebooks.6 These added-value bundles may become more important as markets get saturated and customer retention becomes a burning issue. Growth is harder to come by in the United States, with 40% of new subscribers at theNew York Times now joining up for cooking and crosswords – a different kind of bundling

Waiting in the wings come platform aggregators such as Apple News+, offering a single priced subscription for multiple premium titles for $9.99. Most premium news published have stayed out for now for risk of cannibalising their markets, but the industry will need to address consumer concerns about accessing multiple brands at a reasonable price sooner rather than later.

Further Reading and viewing

Here is a link to the full PDF – (Be warned, it runs to hundreds of pages)

There is also a summary website with details to all the details here.

They have also created the following YouTube summary …

Here is an example of how this report will be used. Because it is too much to digest in one story, theme specific articles will mine data from it. For an example see this Forbes story that has a tight focus on just Fake News.

They have rather a lot of published analysis associated with it all.

Below are some examples.

Explore the data behind the report – Explore the 2019 data and build your own charts. Compare dimensions and data types between or within countries

Podcasts: Who, Why, What, and Where? Nic Newman looks at the motivations for listening to podcasts, as well as the locations and devices that are driving usage

What do People Think about the News Media? Antonis Kalogeropoulos explores how well the news media in different countries are meeting audience expectations

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