A new study conducted by Reuters Institute has made some startling revelations in relation to news consumption patterns. The methodology employed to prepare Digital News Report 2016 included 50,000 news consumers across 26 countries.
Though India did not feature in the list of surveyed countries, the findings are nevertheless relevant as the country cannot be immune from the major news consumption developments in most parts of the world.
The survey was conducted online with the help of an exhaustive questionnaire. It was followed by a series of focus group discussions in Germany, Spain, United Kingdom and United States of America.
Rise of social media
The biggest takeaway from Digital News Report 2016 is the emergence of social media as a primary news source. “Across our entire sample, half (51%) say they use social media as a source of news each week,” the report said.
Such a trend was particularly observed in Brazil, Greece and Turkey where over 70% of the respondents claimed that they utilized social media for accessing news. In the United States, 14% stated that social media was their main news source while the figure revolved around 8% in the UK.
Mark Zuckerberg-led Facebook emerged as the number one news destination on social media. It was reported that 44% use Facebook for news purposes. Surprisingly, Facebook was followed by the likes of YouTube and WhatsApp. Only 10% said that they use Twitter for news.
Popularity of news on social media, particularly Facebook, had also led to the California-based company tying up with five Indian publishers to provide instant articles on their Android app. These included Aaj Tak, Hindustan Times, India Today, The Indian Express and The Quint.
Perennial decline of print
There is not much hope for newspaper publishers if the trends mentioned in the Reuters Institute report are to be believed. As per the report, “We now have five years of data looking at the sources people use for news. In most countries we see a consistent pattern with television news and online news the most frequently accessed, while readership of printed newspapers has declined significantly.”
Going by the numbers, newspapers constitute the major news source for only 25%. While the period between the years 2012 to 2013 saw a minor rise in the consumption of news via print, the data has recorded a steady fall since then.
However, it remains to be seen as to how accurate the findings are concerning the future of print industry in places like India. It is often said that “like the sun, newspaper circulation rises in the east and falls in the west.”
Television not immune to online onslaught
Newspapers aren’t the only industry at risk due to the phenomenal climb in online news consumption. Broadcasters too need to be wary of the power of social media especially because of the emphasis being laid by online newsrooms on video stories.
“Television news still remains most important for older groups but overall usage has continued to decline, particularly for ‘appointment to view’ bulletins and amongst younger groups,” the report mentioned.
It added that “more than a quarter of 18-24s say social media (28%) are their main source of news – more than television (24%) for the first time.” But one point that needs to be stressed over here is that the growth of online has primarily come at the cost of print than television.
In India, it has been observed that television news often drives conversations on social media. For instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent interview with Times Now’s Arnab Goswami generated over 1 billion impressions on Twitter.
News websites versus social media
Though news websites and social media together form part of the larger digital news space, there is an increasing competition between the two to become the number one online news destination. But presently social media still has a long way to go before it can effectively claim the stewardship of online news.
“Social media is just one way of accessing online news – the vast majority of which still ends up being consumed on a news website,” the report mentioned.
The survey found that 42% men go directly to a website or app for news. As far as women are concerned, it was observed that 38% females come across news via social media while 34% log on to websites. Therefore, the report pointed out that “women are more likely to use social media (especially Facebook) to discover news.”
Users prefer handheld devices
According to the Reuters Institute, people prefer to read and watch news on handheld devices. In European countries like Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, more than 60% are accessing news on their mobile phones. In the US, the figure is within striking distance of 50%.
Those who are accessing news on their phones are also said to be much more frequent news consumers. “Across our sample we find that heavy smartphone users tend to access the news more frequently than people who mainly use computers or tablets,” stated the over hundred page report.
But intensive news consumers are accessing news on multiple screens since the report mentioned that “we also find that people who use multiple devices are also much more likely to access news frequently.”
Consumers not willing to pay for online news
It was reported that while 41% are at least paying for a newspaper once a week, the online news consumers aren’t very enthusiastic about loosening their wallet for news. News markets in the US and UK reported a fall in the number of people paying for online news.
“In the United States the percentage paying for any online news in the last year has fallen from 11% to 9% as some paid experiments reverted to free (NYT) and some paywalls have been abandoned.”
The survey stated that the presence of intense global competition has ensured that “no English-speaking country has a payment rate of more than 10%.” However, countries with a distinct language like Norway, Poland and Sweden have recorded a payment rate of 20% and above for online news.
Indian digital publishers have also shied away from experimenting with the paywall model. In September 2014, media mogul Raghav Bahl had said that “I don’t think we are ready for paywalls yet in India.” He had emphasized that his digital venture Quintillion Media Pvt. Ltd. would be driven by advertisements.
Nic Newman who works as a Research Associate at Reuters Institute has aptly summarized the report in its overview and findings section. In the words of Newman, “Across our 26 countries, we see a common picture of job losses, cost-cutting, and missed targets as falling print revenues combine with the brutal economics of digital in a perfect storm. Almost everywhere we see the further adoption of online platforms and devices for news – largely as a supplement to broadcast but often at the expense of print.”