Analysis: The reality of online news consumption

Analysis: The reality of online news consumption

Mike Read shares the latest data from Verto Analytics about how we consume online news – and explains why it matters

How popular is online news consumption?

Around 40.5 million UK adults (93.6% of the adult online population) consume news content online, spending 5 hrs 47 mins a month (11 minutes a day) doing so.

How does news consumption change throughout the day?

The number of people accessing news online rises steadily from 3am to 2pm, from then staying relatively flat until a slight peak between 7-9pm before dropping off for the rest of the night.

However, when looking at the total time spent consuming (engagement) news online for each hour of the day there is much less of a pattern with reach, with three distinct peaks of news consumption: 6-7pm, 4-5pm and 12-1pm.

Broadly speaking, the overall reach pattern (how many people) is fairly consistent among the different demographics. However, peak reach among men is 2-3pm versus 7-9pm for women and we some variation in peak reach among different age groups across the 5-9pm range (see chart below).

In terms of when online news consumption is heaviest (how much time is being spent) there is quite a difference between different demographics. For men it’s 5-8pm and women 6-7pm, while it ranges from 8-9am among people aged 45-54 to 9-10pm among 25-34 year olds (see chart below).

Mobile dominating news consumption is a myth

In the UK, the majority (65%) of online news is still consumed via PC, compared to 24% via mobile and 11% via tablet. In other words, people spend 2.7 times more time looking at news on a PC than on a mobile. Just 18% of news consumption happens via apps on mobile/tablet.

The average person uses 1.8 devices to access news during the course of the month, with the number generally increasing by age. However, for 22% of people who consume online news, a PC is the only device – i.e. they never use a mobile or tablet for online news.

In comparison to the 22% who are PC-only, 17% only use mobiles for online news and 4% only use tablets.

Device usage for news does differ by age group. PC is the dominant news consumption device among all age groups except people aged 25-34, where it accounts for 44% of news time compared to mobile’s 54%. Even among 18-24s, PCs still accounts for over half (51%) of their news time, with this demographic spending twice as much time on tablets (33%) for news than mobiles (16%).

When are the different devices most heavily used?

PCs account for the majority of news consumption each hour of the day except between 2-6am when mobile is the dominant device and 9-10pm when PC and mobile news consumption are equal.

PC usage is most dominant between 8-10am and 4-5pm, during which it accounts for three-quarters of online news consumed. Actual PC news usage has three distinct peaks: 6-7pm, 4-5pm and noon-1pm.

Mobile news usage has three distinct peaks: 9-10pm, 6-7pm and 5-6am. The latter hour is when mobile’s share of online news consumption is highest (63%).

Tablet news usage has two distinct peaks: 8-9pm and 7-8am. The latter hour is when tablet’s share of news consumption is highest (23%).

Why does this data matter?

It sounds obvious to say, but if planners want to be more successful at reaching people on news websites and news publishers want to monetise their audiences more effectively, they need a much better understanding of how people’s news consumption changes throughout the day, particularly across different devices.

At a recent event, for example, a marketing director from a leading UK airline stated most people consume news via their mobile but this simply isn’t the case – two-thirds of news content is consumed through PCs. This presumptive thinking is indicative of the problems with the London media bubble or ‘echo chamber’ that was so apparent around Brexit, Trump, and to a slightly lesser degree, Labour’s strong performance in the general election.

It’s misleading to extrapolate the behaviour of the capital’s media industry to that of the whole country and from an advertising point of view, makes for ineffective campaigns and wasted budget. For example, for brands trying to reach a younger “informed” consumer, the kneejerk reaction is to buy lots and lots of high-ranking mobile traffic but given the data, going all-in on mobile would be misguided.

Of course, this is the state of news consumption today, and mobile is highly likely to grab an ever increasing share in the future but media planning needs to reflect behaviour today and not what it will be in the years to come.

In turn, for publishers to be successful in selling their audience to advertisers, they need to paint a solid narrative of audience engagement throughout the day as it compares to their competitors.

This is something CNN, ESPN and CBS for example in the US, have been looking very closely at in the US. Understanding nuances in consumer behaviour can give them a huge USP to attract advertisers, particularly at certain times of day.

Mike Read is MD, Verto Analytics

All data from May 2017

Media Jobs