COVID-19 coverage sparks massive increases in subscription starts, engagement

By Dawn McMullan


Dallas, Texas, USA


The escalating COVID-19 pandemic and news coverage surrounding it has sparked massive increases in news brand pageviews, engaged time, and new subscription starts in the past two weeks, according to an INMA members-only newsletter today for the association’s Readers First Initiative

Written by INMA Researcher-in-Residence Greg Piechota, the INMA-members only newsletter draws on research by Chartbeat on engagement and Piano on subscriptions. 

To view the full newsletter, INMA members may click here. 

Highlights of the engagement and coverage research by Chartbeat include: 

  • News organisations published 121% more articles on the pandemic last week than the previous week. 
  • Articles on the pandemic represented one-third of all pageviews and accounted for 35% of total engaged time with news sites studied. 
  • Pageviews rose 44% vs. the previous week, while engaged time was up 118%. 
  • Visitors engaged an average of 40 seconds per COVID-19 article, or five seconds longer than articles on other topics. 
  • Social networks and apps, combined, drove slightly more traffic than search engines to COVID-19 coverage.

Key points in the Piano research on the COVID-19 bump include: 

  • European news sites saw a 267% increase in new subscription starts the week of March 16 versus the average week in 2020. 
  • U.S. news sites saw a 15% increase in new subscription starts data from March 9 shows.
  • Piano reports European sites are seeing the bigger bump because they are keeping their paywalls intact. In the United States, many publishers are putting COVID-19 coverage outside of paywalls as a public service. 
  • Yet there is evidence the U.S. bump has just started. On March 15, American news sites saw 58% more subscriptions than an average day.

Meanwhile, Piechota, citing Yieldbird data, reported the programmatic ad requests by news sites spiked 78% vs. the previous month. But they were not met with advertiser demand, so the average eCPM decreased 14%.

About Dawn McMullan

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