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Online: By the Numbers

New to this year’s report is a streamlined data section that houses a comprehensive set of charts and tables telling the story of each media sector. For a narrative summary, visit the corresponding essay.

Digital Economics

Successful revenue models on the web and digital devices remain elusive, especially for news organizations. More experimentation — or at least talk of experimentation — occurred in 2010, but news organizations still seem far from finding a self-sustaining model.

In online economics more broadly, though, 2010 saw significant — even landmark — growth. For the first time, total online ad spending in 2010 outpaced newspaper print advertising.

Search continues to dominate, accounting for nearly half of all online ad spending.


But nearly all types of ad buys saw growth, including display—a good sign for news.


Classifieds, which saw an enormous 29% drop in 2009, picked up in 2010 with an increase of 12%.  Email and lead generation were the two areas to see declines in 2010, however the rates were less steep than in 2009.1

While news sites benefit from the growth in display ad buys, most of that revenue goes to sources other than news.

  • Newspapers got $556 million from display ad revenue, the fifth-most of any single category.  This was a 25% increase over the first three quarters of 2009.2
  • The News & Current Events category, a group that includes many different kinds of sites from the Huffington Post to popular blogs, got $251 million from display advertising, a modest 3% increase over 2009.3
  • Another category that could include some traditional news is Business, Finance, and Investing, which includes sites like banks but also some that have financial news like Bloomberg.  This category got $1.5 billion from display ad revenue, a 20% decline from 2009.  Despite this decline, this category was the second-largest, after Multi-Service sites like Google.4

The local online ad market operates quite differently than the overall market. Here search does not dominate; instead, display ad revenue is king.  Local online advertising shows signs of embracing the advancements in display ads.  Targeted display ads grew substantially while the older form, static ads declined Whether this kind of growth find its way to the larger national ad network remains to be seen.


Mobile Ad Spending

Mobile ad spending amounts to just a small fraction, 3%, of total online ad spending. But it is still in its infancy, growing rapidly— an 79% in 2010 — and opens up new potential revenue streams for news.5


Like the web overall, there are several varieties of mobile ads. The oldest form—ads sent as text messages—still dominates the market, at least for now.


Forrester Research projects mobile search and display ads to overtake text messaging ads by 2012.


The Audience for News Online

As we saw in online ad spending, 2010 marked a milestone in web-based news consumption.  For the first time, more Americans said they went online to get their news than said they read a newspaper “yesterday.”  Television, though, still reigns as 58% of Americans reported getting some news from television “yesterday,” almost double online.6


Americans also spent more time with online news in 2010, fully 13 minutes a day.  This puts online ahead of newspapers in time spent as well, but behind radio and television (15 minutes and 32 minutes, respectively).


When asked another way, “Where do you get most of your news about national and international issues?” television still holds the leads but again the gap is closing and the internet beats out newspapers.



When this trend is broken down by age the differences are stark.  Among 18-to-29-year-olds, the internet already outpaces television as their source for most national and international news.

Despite the growth in web usage, the top news sites remain stable and are mostly sites tied to legacy media outlets.

Below are the top news web properties for the year, according to Nielsen Media Research and Hitwise.

For comScore, only December 2010 numbers are available for comparison  (comScore spent part of 2009 and part of 2010 changing its methodology and as a result the full year numbers are not yet comparable.)


Mobile Audience

The potential for mobile news content is clear, most Americans own a cell phone of some kind and that number has been growing over the last five years.

While cellphones are an important part of online news consumption, there is a new player in the world of mobile news, the tablet.  It is clear that while tablet ownership is still low, it will continue to grow quickly as the devices become more available.


  1. eMarketer, “US Ad Spending: Online Outshines Other Media,” December 2010
  2. Kantar Media Display Ad Revenue
  3. Kantar Media Display Ad Revenue
  4. Kantar Media Display Ad Revenue
  5. eMarketer. “US Ad Spending: Online Outshines Other Media.” December 2010.
  6. “Americans Spending More Time Following the News.” Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Sept. 12, 2010.