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Digital: By The Numbers

By freelance journalist Jane Sasseen, Kenny Olmstead and Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center

Online news consumption has risen sharply in recent years, following the rapid spread of digital platforms. In fact, online was the only category that showed growth in Pew Research Center’s 2012 News Media Consumption survey.1 18-digital grows again as a source for news


Most mobile news users are not replacing one platform with another; they are consuming more news than they had in the past. More than half of tablet news users, 54%, say they also get news on a smartphone; 77% also get news on a desktop or laptop computer; 50% get news in print and a quarter get news on all four, according to a 2012 study by Pew Research Center and the Economist Group. Similarly, about three-quarters of smartphone owners say they also get news on laptops or desktops, while a little over a quarter of them get news on a tablet.

This same survey also found that 31% of tablet news users say that they spend more time with news since getting their mobile devices, and 43% said that the device is adding to the amount of news they consume.


19- For many, mobile means more news

Top News Sites

All of those factors are driving enormous growth in the online news audience. The top 25 news sites in the U.S. tallied 625 million average unique monthly visitors in 2012 – a 7% gain from the prior year, according to comScore.

Well-known news brands – the websites of newspapers, cable and network news – account for 20 of the 25 most popular news sites listed by comScore, for example.

20-top sites 2012, comScore

The three leading online measurement firms – comScore, Nielsen and Experian Hitwise – compute digital traffic in different ways, so their raw numbers do not match up. But all tell a similar story about which sites are the most popular.

21-top sites 2012, nielsen 22-top sites 2012, hitwise



Second Screen

Mobile devices are transforming the news environment through the rise of the so-called second screen phenomenon, in which users log onto the internet while also watching television. Although the practice goes well beyond news, it has become popular around live news events such as the U.S. presidential debates, election night and the State of the Union address.

23-how users watched the second presidential debate - Copy


On election night last November, Pew Research found, 27% of the country used both the internet and television at the same time to follow the results.

24- how users watched election night - Copy


A Verizon study published before the first presidential debate found that people planned to use their second device in a number of different ways. Nearly half the respondents, 46%, said they would use a second screen to track broadcast media. Roughly 40% said they would fact check what they heard or follow the reactions of political reporters.2  Sharing on social networks was also important: 32% said they would monitor social media while watching the debate.

24a-use of the second screen during the presidential debate - Copy


Social Media

In 2012, social media continued to expand their role in the news ecosystem, establishing themselves as an indispensable tool for distributing content and attracting new users, as well as for building deeper engagement with current ones.

25-more people getting news on social networks - Copy


NewsWhip, a startup company that tracks news shared on social media, published a list in September 2012 of the 50 news sites with the strongest user engagement on Facebook. (Engagement was based on stories that tallied more than 100 “Facebook interactions,” such as when a reader liked a story on Facebook, shared it or commented on it.)

26-top sites by facebook interactions large


Another measure of the growing importance of social media – and its ties to the second screen phenomenon – comes from Trendrr.TV, an analytics firm that measures social data around television. During the week of the election, for example, it measured network and cable television mentions in social media. CNN led among cable channels — its coverage was mentioned nearly 2 million times in social media — followed by Fox News, at almost 1.8 million. Among noncable networks, NBC topped the list with nearly 1.7 million mentions.

27-social tv durign election week


Digital Advertising

The digital advertising market is growing faster than other kinds of advertising.  Total digital advertising (including mobile) rose to $37.3 billion in 2012, a 17% increase.3

7-digital advertising continues its rapid growth


Rather, news organizations are facing continued competition from other companies for digital ad dollars. Digital advertising, across formats, continues to be dominated by five large companies.

9-five companies continue to dominate digital advertisingSEE FULL DATA SET

Within digital, mobile advertising is growing rapidly as well. While still small, the mobile ad market grew 80% in 2012. At $2.6 billion, mobile now accounts for roughly 7% of total digital ad spending. eMarketer projects it will hit 21% by 2016.4 

8- mobile ad revenue grows in 2012


Though mobile advertising is growing fast, there are still challenges in monetizing that platform. If Web ads bring in only a fraction of the revenues earned by print ads, mobile ads generally bring in only a fraction of what Web ads earn.

10-estimated cost per impression rates

Digital advertising is made up of eight core segments, the largest of which has long been the search. That is dominated by Google. The search ad market continues to grow rapidly, increasing 16% in 2012, to $17.6 billion.

11-total media advertising by type

The news industry is largely dependent on display advertising. Banners are the largest segment of display ads, followed by video ads, rich media and sponsorship ads. (Rich media ads are banner ads that have an interactive element such as animation.)

12-banner ads makeup largets portion of display


While it is challenging to measure how much of the display ad market goes to news, according to an estimate using Kantar Media data, the categories that include at least some news brought in around $3 billion in 2012.

34-top news destinations for display advertising

In the mobile realm, display ad revenues have been roughly equal to search from the start – and both are rising rapidly. Mobile display doubled to $1.1 billion in 2012. As with overall ad spending, eMarketer predicts that mobile display will overtake mobile search by 2016.5 

35-mobile search and display grow equally


Advertisers increasingly view Google, Facebook and other social media sites as better venues for their display ads than news outlets. Both Google and Facebook have increased their investments in the display ad market, giving the two an even larger edge in the race for advertising dollars.

36-google pulls ahead in display advertising


Video Advertising

Americans are watching more online video than ever, and video advertising has exploded in response. It increased 47% to $2.9 billion in 2012, by far the highest growth rate of all digital ad segments. Video ads bring in higher rates than banner ads, providing news organizations the opportunity to charge more for the ads on their sites.

37-digital video advertising continues to grow


Local Advertising

Local digital advertising is another critical ad segment for news. The vast majority of journalism organizations in the United States are local players, from daily television newscasts to all but three of the newspapers that still remain.

Local digital ads grew 22% in 2012, to $19.9 billion, according to Borrell Associates. The firm estimates that local advertising rose to account for 29% of all digital ad spending up from 28% in 2011. (Borrell uses a larger measure for the national ad market than the eMarketer figures cited above.)

38-local digital advertising grows


The arrival of large technology and advertising companies like Google and Facebook means the makeup of local advertising market will continue to differ considerably from the national market. In the local market, display is larger segment of advertising than search.

Local search ads amounted to $6.3 billion, a 10% increase, in 2012. Display – which includes both targeted ads and the “run of site” ads that all users see – brought in a combined $9.1 billion, a 25% jump.6

39-targeted advertising continues to grow in local


Targeted display ads are growing much faster than any other local digital format. They took in $3.8 billion in 2012, or 19% of all local ad spending. With growth averaging 100% a year, Borrell projects targeted display will be more than double the size of any other local ad category by 2014.7

Click here to read the Digital Essay

  1. Pew Research Center. “Trends in News Consumption: 1991-2012.” Sept. 27, 2012.
  2. Maldonado, Jeff. “65% of Americans Will Use PC, Smartphone, Tablet While Watching the Presidential Debate.” Verizon. Oct. 2, 2012.
  3. eMarketer. “US Ad Spending Forecast.” October 2012.
  4. eMarketer. “US Ad Spending Forecast.” October 2012.
  5. eMarketer. “US Ad Spending Forecast.” October 2012.
  6. Borrell Associates.
  7. Borrell Associates.