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It’s time to reinvent news media audience measurement

By Gary Meo

Nielsen Scarborough

New York


Before we get into this month’s blog post, I want to provide a quick update on some information that was included in my last blog post about the resilience of newspaper audiences.

This paragraph appeared in that blog post:

Studies by Nielsen Scarborough and others show about half of newspaper readers consume newspapers only in their printed form. According to Nielsen Scarborough’s most current national database, among the U.S. adult audience that is consuming newspaper media across platforms (print, e-edition, Web site, and mobile), nearly half (48%) consume that content exclusively in print.

Since that post was published, we have released our newest national database, which is based on interviews conducted between June 2016 and April 2017. According to the most current data, among the U.S. adult audience consuming newspaper media across platforms (print, e-edition, Web site, and mobile), the percentage accessing that content exclusively in print has decreased to 46% from 48%.

This is the continuation of a trend that has been going on for some time. Audiences are migrating to digital platforms. Yet, print remains quite strong with 46% of the audience consuming newspaper content exclusively in print.

Clearly, print remains a viable platform for news, information, and advertising. Now is not the time to abandon print. But, it is the time to take a hard look at the way we measure and report newspaper audiences, which brings me to the topic of this month’s blog post: It’s time to reinvent newspaper audience measurement.

Nielsen Scarborough has been measuring U.S. newspaper audiences for more than 40 years and in that time, we have measured and reported the same key audience estimates for print newspapers:

  • Average-issue daily readers.
  • Average-issue Sunday readers.
  • Cumulative daily readers (five daily issues).
  • Cumulative Sunday readers (four Sunday issues).

As digital platforms began to emerge, we added new measures.

In 2004, we started measuring newspaper Web site audiences. In 2007, we introduced the Integrated Newspaper Audience (INA) metric, which is the net of the weekly print and weekly Web site audience. In 2011, we began measuring newspaper e-editions (electronic facsimile editions) and incorporated that audience into the INA. And, that same year, we introduced a measure for newspaper reading on mobile devices.

Since 2004, there has been a virtual revolution in media technology and choice. Facebook was founded in 2004, YouTube first appeared in 2005, and Twitter and the Nintendo WII were introduced in 2006. Just this week, the iPhone turned 10 years old. The first iPad hit the market in 2010 and Amazon’s Alexa became available in 2014.

Over the same time period, the U.S. newspaper industry saw its circulation and readership decline, advertising revenue collapse, and traditional business model break. In response, the industry began the difficult process of reinventing itself.

As researchers, we need to reinvent measurement to keep pace with the evolving needs of an evolving industry.

So, let’s start with some basic questions:

  1. Is the average-issue print measurement still relevant? A number of U.S. daily newspapers do not distribute a printed edition of the newspaper every day of the week, or they only print single-copy editions or have eliminated home delivery on certain days. I believe the daily-Sunday distinction is still important, but I’m not sure the average issue tells the audience story we need to tell today. Would a “past week” time frame make more sense?
  2. What is the best way to measure and report digital audiences? Newspapers use a variety of tools to measure and report their digital audiences, so there is inconsistency in the way these audiences are presented to advertisers. Would the industry be better served by a single currency measurement system presenting a consistent story across newspapers and markets? And, what are the specific metrics that would enable advertisers to fairly evaluate newspaper media?
  3. How do you best measure and report total audience? Despite declines in circulation and readership, most newspapers are reaching more people in their markets than ever before, thanks to new platforms, niche products, mobile, apps, e-mail, and other means. How do we best measure each individual audience component and combine them into a net unduplicated total audience?

 None of these questions are easily answered.

It will require ingenuity and innovation, and I invite news media researchers to engage in the conversation, share ideas, and make recommendations.

At Nielsen Scarborough, we have the data collection and processing tools required to do the work. But we need the input, ideas, and involvement of industry experts to develop the specifics needed to reinvent newspaper audience measurement. If you think this is important, contact me and let’s get started.

About Gary Meo

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