There are more ways than ever for readers to consume news.
Readership and subscription trends have steadily increased over the past few decades, despite the uncertainty of the news industry.
Yet some troubling trends have forced traditional media outlets to tackle the challenge of adopting digital strategies and embracing opportunities to create a distinctive voice to reach audiences.
During the first module of the INMA World Congress of News Media on Thursday, Neal Zuckerman, senior partner and head/global media practice at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), gave a snapshot of the media trends happening right now across the United States that are molding media’s future.
Zuckerman shared a number of data charts showing readership is up over the last three years across digital platforms. An increase in readership across mobile devices isn’t a surprise, but an increase in desktop readership is.
While a bump in readership was expected due to current events such as the COVID pandemic, the 2020 election, and the Ukraine crisis, the numbers continued to increase long after, Zuckerman said.
Not only are Americans consuming more news, BCG research shows, they’re also subscribing to more national media brands. For example, The New York Times recently announced impressive growth in its digital-only subscriptions, with nine million subscribers across 10 million subscriptions.
With more eyes and subscriptions, digital circulation for local news brands is ticking up for leading media companies. This is leading to a positive increase in digital advertising opportunities, a trend Zuckerman said was a pleasant surprise. His data shows a 5% increase in total revenue for publications in 2021. As of right now, digital advertising has slowed for the start of 2022, but digital circulation continues.
While digital platforms are seeing new customers, so is television. Broadcast news and cable networks are seeing an increase in growing civic engagement. They’re seeing an increase in news audiences through a mix of television viewership and digital access to television.
Despite the positive trends within the news industry, Zuckerman identified three troubling trends:
Social media: Nearly half of all Americans continue to turn to social media for their news. Platforms like TikTok and Snapchat are targeting young audiences and leading the way in social media news consumption.
News deserts: Daily newspaper circulation is steadily declining, while some newspapers are shutting down altogether. The rate of newspaper shutdowns has slowed in recent years, but it continues to happen. These closures are leading to what are called “news deserts.”
Hundreds of communities have been left with little or no local news coverage. In fact, over half of the counties that reported COVID-19 cases lack local news outlets. Zuckerman said this trend is concerning because research has shown “the absence of a paper reduces civic engagement.”
Shrinking employment: One of Zuckerman’s final concerning trends for the news industry is a reduction in employment across all newspaper publishers and radio broadcasters.
Data “bright spots”
While there are concerning trends across the news, there are opportunities Zuckerman called “bright spots” that bring hope to the industry.
Optimistic journalists: Zuckerman shared the results of a BCG survey administered before and during the COVID pandemic. The goal of the survey was to gather the sentiment that journalists have about the future of journalism.
Those surveyed work across radio, television, print, and digital platforms. The results showed a positive outlook for journalists at the start of their careers as well as in the middle of their careers.
Zuckerman said the optimistic results were surprising: “Those who were in mid-career, five to 10 years in, were 74% feeling positive and optimistic about the future of their profession. That’s a great story … no pun intended.”
Success in subscriptions: The success of media outlets, like The New York Times, transitioning to subscription platforms “instills hope in an otherwise shrinking industry.” He went on to say he doesn’t believe this success is a “one trick pony” and that the average revenue per user (APRU) is comparable to subscription businesses like Hulu, Netflix, and Facebook.
Zuckerman believes there is a way to monetise journalism and used the media Axios as an example, saying the company is proving there are three ways a business can be distinctive in news. It’s “more than how you deliver it, but it’s where you deliver it,” he said.
In addition, new opportunities to engage include:
New age outlets: New independent digital outlets are emerging and essentially filling the void being left behind in local communities as daily newspapers close. Along with digital start-ups, Zuckerman said there’s an increasing importance for charitable foundations and local philanthropists to fund local journalism.
Technology: Technology is constantly giving the world new opportunities and Zuckerman said newsrooms can ultilise AI technologies and content management systems as a way to become more efficient. Newsrooms can now automate parts of the journalism process, such as collecting and analyzing data, and generating company reports. They can also use management systems for audience tracking and so much more.
New platforms: Zuckerman highlighted the different platforms giving journalists the opportunity to build and develop their individual brands. From blog platforms to podcasts, they allow independent journalists to reach and monetise their audiences helps create a healthy career path that will lead to a healthy news industry.
Crypto currency/NFTs: Zuckerman ended his presentation by looking decades into the future, talking about about new crypto platforms like the metaverse. New engagement metrics will emerge with companies testing NFTs and crypto and could lead to the public having “decision rights and voting rights” in an organisation.
He predicts in the next 10 to 20 years, the notion of crypto and NFT’s playing a role in newsrooms will be meaningful.