by Ulrikke Albertsen, on July 11, 2012
The increasing availability and uptake of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, is driving a surge in digital media usage and bringing about considerable changes in the way media is consumed – across both emerging and developed markets. Moreover, new research suggests that tablet users in particular consume more news and are more willing to pay for the privilege.
Whilst computers still dominate digital news use, mobile use now stands at around 25% across countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, while peaking in Denmark at 32%, according to a new survey of digital news use from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Tablets, which are much less widespread than web-enabled mobile phones, still account for a relatively small percentage of news consumption. Even in the country with the highest rate of tablet usage, Denmark, tablets only account for 13% of digital news access. While still a relatively small rate of digital news consumption, tablet use is set to grow quickly.
In the US, the Online Publishers Association predicts that tablet ownership in the US will reach 47% by next year. Much of that growth is driven by Amazon’s Kindle Fire. It took five years after the introduction of Apple’s iPhone for a majority of US consumers to own a smartphone, but tablet ownership is rocketing towards a majority a little more than two years since the sector-defining iPad was introduced, the OPA said.
The Reuters Institute study also found that smartphone and tablet news consumption represent not only a shift in platform but a much broader shift to new systems of engagement, one that may strengthen the position of newspapers. In the UK for example, smartphones have become the main source of online news for 27% of 25-34 year-olds and 22% of 16-24 year-olds, whereas 58% of British tablet users access news from their device every week, Reuters reports. And interestingly, these consumers prefer news from traditional newspapers like The Guardian and The Times to some of the non-traditional news sources that have strong positions online. Five of the top news brands on tablets in the UK come from newspaper groups compared to just two on computers.
Findings from the US confirm that mobile devices, particularly tablets, are becoming viable alternatives to traditional newspaper reading. A recent study from the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri shows that 56% of users of large media tablets like the Apple iPad spend one hour or more each day consuming news on their devices, often at home after 5:00 p.m. That was historically the place and prime time for reading evening newspapers or watching evening news broadcasts.
Especially interesting for news organizations is that mobile devices also are showing promising signs in terms of revenue generation, as Nic Newman, an editor of the Reuters Institute Digital Report, points out in an interview with The Media Briefing. Tablet users in both the UK and the US say the device provides a better experience for news than a computer, and they are therefore significantly more likely to pay for online news. The rebundling of news into apps makes it very easy for the 56% of all British tablet users who use news apps on their device as the main way of accessing online news to pay for the service. All it takes is a simple touch on a branded icon in the app stores. Of course, Apple’s Newsstand – an app dedicated to downloading digital magazines and newspapers – has made it much easier for traditional publishers to develop digital subscription models.
But mobile devices are not just altering online news consumption in developed markets. Smartphones, and to some degree tablets, are irreversibly changing the way users access the internet in emerging markets as well. Russians for example are very attracted to the new devices, especially in major cities. Analysis by Yandex shows that 56% of consumers own smartphones and 10% own tablets in Moscow. Other big cities like St. Petersburg show similar results. Russia is still behind Western Europe and the US in terms of mobile internet usage, but the user base is growing rapidly, increasing by 2.5% during the first two months of 2012. And user patterns are similar to those in the US, with for example 57% of all iPad usage in Russia taking place in the evening at home.
Even markets with internet penetrations as low as 1.1% have burgeoning smartphone markets that are changing the media habits and attitudes of consumers. Nielsen’s Southeast Asia Digital Consumer Report from 2011 shows that while computers continue to be the primary way to access the internet in the region, smartphones are on track to supplant them. In Indonesia for instance, more than three-quarters (78%) of consumers own internet-capable mobile devices compared to just 29% who own laptops or 31% with desktops. Tablets are just starting to make their mark in Southeast Asia, but they are likely to show rapid growth in several countries in the region in the year ahead, Nielsen reports. And while reading and sending emails is the most popular activity for users in Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand, reading news is the favourite digital activity in Indonesia and Vietnam.
This new consumer behaviour is clearly something news organizations all over the world can benefit from by building mobile services to drive news consumption, promotion and communication. Apps have now become enough of an integral part of daily life in developed markets as well as in emerging markets to offer some hope to traditional newspaper publishers struggling with new competition and falling profit margins, as the Reuters Institute report emphasises.
On the other hand, we should remain cautious in interpreting these figures – especially in emerging markets. It is still very early days for tablets in particular, which largely are in the hands of richer and better educated groups who are more likely to be prepared to pay for news. Also, it is essential to highlight that consumers and their preferences and needs differ from one market to the next, as Jasmeet Sing Sethi, senior specialist at Ericsson ConsumerLab, says in connection with a study on mobile developments in Russia, India and Brazil. In India for example, smartphone users are predominately focusing on personalisation – screensavers, images for wallpaper and themes – whereas social media applications are big in Brazil. And looking at Russia, you find a lot of productivity and performance types of applications including “navigation and maps, shopping comparisons, barcode scanners, translators, (and) dictionaries”, Ericsson Consumerlab reports.