South China Morning Post (SCMP) has a product development strategy that guides priorities and evaluations, says Ben Abbotts, deputy director of digital business development.

The strategy is:

  • To serve the latest news.

  • To be quick to load.

  • To be device agnostic.

Along with that, the Hong Kong-based media company seeks to provide its readers with an alternate way to consume news and participate by serving news based on social velocity: that which is most viewed, most shared, and most commented.

The company’s first priority was to optimise mobile. Launching in August, 2012, catered to SCMP’s broad user base. News Pulse launched in June, 2013, to provide iPhone and Android users with a native experience that can be customised.

The reason for this strategy is that its core readership has been accessing at a dramatically increasing rate during the past year, Abbotts says.

“Currently 30% of our traffic is from smartphones,” Abbotts says. “With smartphone penetration in Hong Kong being one of the highest in the world and mobile data [being] relatively cheap, we need to make sure our audience is served on smartphones.”

Abbotts predicts it will take time before the company can draw any conclusions about the success of the two products. But he does believe growth in pageviews is a good indication things are going well.

The core content product, however, still holds 100% of the company’s focus, regardless of whether access comes via mobile Web or mobile app, Abbotts says: “We want to make sure these are done well first.”

SCMP does not have a specific smartphone strategy. Rather, it has chosen a broader mobile strategy, including the September, 2013, launch of the SCMP Tablet Edition, built as an HTML5 Web app.

What SCMP has learned from an audience engagement perspective is that smartphone users are very engaged at certain times of the day such as 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., at lunch time, and between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. “We need to understand more and cater to their different needs in different times of the day,” Abbotts says.

Abbotts encourages others to adopt a device-agnostic approach as part of a strategy for mobile: “Given the proliferation of devices and screen sizes, providing a good and consistent user experience across an ever-expanding range of devices can be challenging — although one that we embrace.”

SCMP’s audience base has expanded, both locally and internationally, with the addition of smartphone access, Abbotts says. Prior to that, its international audience had no access. That audience can now turn to digital, mobile, and tablets to access SCMP’s high-quality content.

Currently, 30% of South China Morning Post’s traffic comes from smartphones, says Abbotts, who expects that number to reach approximately 40% in late 2014.

One of the trends and changes in market behaviours and technology opportunities is the continuous move to mobile and the opportunity that HTML5 gives publishers to take back control of user data — which Abbotts believes may be key as subscription-based models become more commonplace.

SCMP values content above all because that’s what readers are willing to pay for, says Sophia Yu, the company’s director of advertising and marketing solutions.

Because of that, originally adopted a subscription-based model. It continues to monitor trends and gauge reader sentiment, which led the company to introduce a metered subscription model in August, 2012, to both and

Instead of charging subscribers for smartphone products (an optimised mobile version of and mobile apps) alone, SCMP bundled them in a subscription package with High-quality content engages readers, but needs to be offered on multiple platforms for one price, says Alex Ho, senior director, newspaper and recruitment services.

“Since we launched our smartphone products in June, our new subscriptions keep growing through different sources, not just from the mobile platform,” Ho says. “We believe the prevalent splintering of payments across platforms, for the same basic content, is a barrier for consumers.”

The other side of monetisation is display advertising, sponsored content and sessions, and rich media ads. Among the company’s smartphone-related revenue experiments are native app advertising, including full-page, interstitial, and banner advertising. Rich-media advertising on mobile is coming.

Executives at SCMP believe mobile Web and mobile apps for smartphones are a source of revenue that will grow significantly, though they won’t overtake the company’s Web site anytime in the next 12 to 24 months, Yu predicts.

Looking ahead, Yu believes the opportunities in smartphone product development in the next 12 months will be in responsive design, HTML5, and Augmented Reality/image recognition technology. During that same 12 months, smartphone monetisation opportunities for SCMP lie in e-commerce.

The trend that could affect the company’s strategic approach in this space would be devices with larger screens that would allow more responsive design and a better Web experience when compared to the desktop. 

This is one of 17 case studies featured in the recent INMA strategic report “The Smartphone Choices for Media Companies.” For more information on this report, free to INMA members, click here