Verto Index: News Apps & Sites
As the news media industry struggles to identify successful digital strategies amid a constantly-evolving advertising and monetization landscape, which properties are successfully attracting and engaging readers?
This month’s Verto Index looks at the most popular news properties (apps and websites) among U.S. adults (ages 18 and above), from the Huffington Post to USA Today. This Verto Index includes audience data on both the websites and, where applicable, mobile apps of the stated news property.
The Top 10 Most Popular News Media Apps and Websites
The 10 most popular news media properties (based on monthly unique users) are a blend of established journalism outlets (eg., USA Today and The Washington Post) as well as exclusively digital outlets (eg., Huffington Post and Business Insider). And while the Huffington Post has edged past CNN to claim the top spot in this year’s rankings, its total monthly unique user numbers have decreased over the past year: last May, CNN claimed nearly 55 million monthly unique users, while this year, the Huffington Post claimed just over 49 million monthly unique users. Meanwhile, longstanding establishment outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post have actually enjoyed increases in their monthly unique user numbers over the past year: The New York Times enjoyed a boost from 45.4 million monthly unique users in May 2016 to 48 million in May 2017, while The Washington Post increased its unique monthly users by nearly 5 million, jumping from 39.2 million in May 2016 to 44 million in May 2017.
Are news audiences dispersing across a greater number of properties, or are they shifting their attention towards social media platforms or other sources for news?
Which News Media Property Has the Most Engaged Audience?
“Stickiness” is how Verto measures consumer engagement with a given property, by comparing monthly users to daily users. The stickiest property on our Index is Apple’s News for iOS (21% stickiness), which ranks 13th overall; while it has just half the monthly users as top-ranking Huffington Post (10% stickiness), Verto Analytics data shows that News for iOS users spend far more time with the property. Users spent an average of one minute and seven seconds with News for iOS in May 2017, compared to just 21 seconds on the Huffington Post. Frequency also matters, especially for news properties: News for iOS averages 11 sessions per user per month, compared to just five for the Huffington Post. And, notably, the average session duration for News for iOS is more than six minutes long – a duration only eclipsed by Reddit, the second stickiest property on our Index.
News for iOS is also the only mobile-only property on our Index. While Verto data shows that the average time spent per user on news properties is significantly higher on PCs and tablets than on smartphones. News for iOS has evidently adapted its content and its user interface to encourage frequent and long-form browsing by its audience. And despite the fact that larger screens may facilitate full-page news browsing and other interactive content, mobile content retains an important place in the daily lives of news audiences (a topic we address below).
Audience Demographics for News Media Consumption
According to Verto Analytics data, the Huffington Post’s audience skews older and female: 60% of its readers are women, and nearly half are aged 45 or above. News for iOS readers also skew older: more than 60% are aged 45 and above, while only 6% of its readers are aged 18-24. Interestingly, Forbes, the least mobile-driven property on our Index (the property with the highest proportion of readers who use a PC to access content) attracts a younger audience: 12% of its readers are aged 18-24, and nearly a third of its readers are under the age of 35.
Mobile-Only and The Rise of Digital News Media Consumption
The recent round of layoffs and site closures at the Huffington Post, Time Inc., and Condé Nast are just a few of the latest signs of struggle as more publishers and news sites grapple to adapt their print legacies to a digital-first world. And on digital, publishers are faced with readers who rely on multiple screens, form factors, and devices to consume their content. But Verto data shows some encouraging signs for the future of news media consumption: News ranks among the top 10 accessed content categories with a reach of 87% and stickiness of 44%. And when it comes to audiences that regularly access new content, 25% of consumers access news content daily, which is more frequent than the categories of lifestyle, technology, and finance.
While most news properties attract about half to two-thirds of their audience through mobile devices only, Buzzfeed (72% mobile) and News for iOS (100% mobile) have much higher proportions of mobile-only users. Notably, they are the two youngest news properties on our Index: Buzzfeed was founded in 2006 and News for iOS was only launched in the U.S. in September, 2015. On the other end of the spectrum, older print giants like the Los Angeles Times and the New York Post also have some of the lowest mobile-only audiences, as well as Forbes.
But the majority of new audiences still rely heaving on PCs for news consumption: the average time spent per user on news media apps and websites is significantly higher on PCs and tablets than on smartphones – possibly due to the fact that larger screens result in easier longform reading and browsing. In fact, during peak hours, the time that consumers spend on news content on PCs eclipses time spent on entertainment and games content.
But mobile still plays an important role in accessing news content within specific contexts: the share of total time spent on news content on PCs experiences two peaks during the day: one in the early morning and another in the late afternoon. Mobile usage peaks only in the early morning, during typical commute hours.
Only one thing seems for sure: while Verto data shows that news content continues to be important and engaging to consumers, the digital news landscape is destined for more shakeups and consolidation as established outlets, digital-first sites, and social media networks all vie for the same audiences, across different devices throughout their daily digital lives. But as media companies and news publishers learn more about their audiences – which devices they use to access which content, when, and in what context – these insights could provide new targeting and monetization opportunities for news publishers and their advertisers alike.