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Major Trends

By Amy Mitchell  and Tom Rosenstiel of PEJ

Each year, this report also identifies key trends in the news industry. In addition to the growing shift to mobile and the intensifying gap with the biggest technology companies, six such trends stand out entering 2012:

Mobile may be leading to a deeper experience with news than on the desktop/laptop computer.  As sales of e-readers and tablet computers grow, PEJ’s early research has found consumers are reading more immersively on these devices than on earlier technology. New survey data released here add to that. More than a quarter of the population, 27%, now get news on mobile devices. And these mobile news consumers are even more likely to turn to news organizations directly, through apps and home pages, rather than search or recommendations — strengthening the bond with traditional brands.  The evidence also suggests mobile is adding to, rather than replacing, people’s news consumption. Data tracking people’s behavior, for instance, finds that mobile devices increased traffic on major newspaper websites by an average of 9%.1 The technology may also be spreading this access to groups that were passed over by the first generation of digital. Some rural populations like Native Americans who largely missed the desktop generation, are now moving straight to mobile options that do not rely on broadband access.

Social media are important but not overwhelming drivers of news, at least not yet. Some 133 million Americans, or 54% of the online U.S. population, are now active users on Facebook (out of 850 million monthly active users globally).2 They also spend an average of seven hours there a month, 14 times the amount of time people spend on average on the most popular news sites.3 And the number of Twitter users grew 32% last year to around 24 million active users in the U.S. (500 million total accounts worldwide), the company reports. But the notion that large percentages of Americans now get their news mainly from recommendations from friends does not hold up, according to survey data released here. No more than 10% of digital news consumers follow news recommendations from Facebook or Twitter “very often,” the new survey finds. And almost all of those who do are still using other ways like going directly to the news website or app as well.

News viewership on television grew in unexpected venues.  At the three traditional broadcast television networks, news audiences grew 4.5%, the first uptick in a decade. At the local level, audiences grew in both morning and late evening, the first growth in five years. There were more gains from the stations adding news at 4:30 a.m. Cable news audiences also grew, by 1%, after falling the year before. But for the first time since we began these reports, the growth came at CNN (16% growth in median prime-time viewership) and to a lesser extent MSNBC (3% growth). By contrast, Fox News, though still by far the ratings leader, had a second year of decline. Much of the growth may be short-lived, a function of big, visually oriented news stories rather than change in habits. Local news stations saw audiences for their evening newscasts (those most likely to include national and international affairs) fall back quickly when the uprisings in the Middle East subsided.

More news outlets will move to digital subscriptions in 2012 — as a matter of survival. Perhaps as many as 100 more papers are expected in coming months to join the roughly 150 publications that have already moved to some kind of digital subscription model. The move, long anticipated and long delayed, is only partly influenced by the success of The New York Times “metered model,” which now has some 390,000 subscribers and resulted in almost no loss in more casual online traffic. The timing of this also reflects a starker reality. Many newspapers have lost so much of their ad revenue — more than half since 2006 industry-wide — that without an infusion of digital subscription revenue, some may not survive. Over the last five years, an average of 15 papers, or just about 1% of the industry, has vanished each year. A growing number of executives predict that in five years many newspapers will offer a print home-delivered newspaper only on Sunday, and perhaps one or two other days a week that account most print ad revenue.

As privacy becomes an even larger issue, the impact on news is uncertain. There has always existed a tension between the services that technology companies provide and the data about consumers they gather and then leverage for financial gain. Those tensions have swelled as app technology, new methods for targeting advertising, the rise of Facebook and Google’s new privacy settings intensified the debate how those data are used. For their part, consumers are becoming more conscious of their digital profiles. As of early 2012, roughly two-thirds of the Internet population is uneasy with targeted advertising and search engines tracking their behavior.4 And many of the Facebook stories that resonated in social media over the last few years have been tied to issues of privacy.5 But consumers are also more dependent on the free and efficient services available from the web platforms that gather the data. This places conflicting pressures on the news industry. To survive, news must find a way to make its digital advertising more effective — and more lucrative — and the gathering of consumer data is probably the key. Yet news organizations also must worry about violating the trust of their audiences. The longer they hesitate, the more market share they lose.

Click here to see the key findings

Footnotes

  1. comScore. “Digital Omnivores: How Tablets, Smartphones and Connected Devices Are Changing U.S. Digital Media Consumption Habits.” Subscriber-access only at www.comscore.com. October 2011.
  2. eMarketer. “Facebook’s US User Growth Slows but Twitter Sees Double-Digit Gains.” March 5, 2012.
  3. Olmstead, Kenny; Mitchell, Amy, and Rosenstiel, Tom. “Navigating News Online: Where People Go, How They Get There and What Lures Them Away.” Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. May 9, 2011.
  4. Search Engine Use 2012.” Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. March 9, 2012.
  5. The Facebook Fascination on Social Media.” Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Feb. 2, 2012.