March 19, 2012 at 12:12 AM ET
That fella you bump into on the street with his eyes glued to his smartphone may just as likely be reading a news story as sending a text message. A new report says 27 percent of Americans now get their news using mobile devices, something that's helping to increase news consumption nationally, despite a continuing decline in subscribers to print publications.
The findings are shared in the "2012 State of the News Media report," by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
"More than 80 percent of smartphone and tablet news consumers still get news on laptop or desktop computers. On mobile devices, news consumers also are more likely to go directly to a news site or use an app, rather than to rely on search — strengthening the bond with traditional news brands," Pew said.
"Rather than gravitating toward one device, a growing number of Americans are becoming multiplatform digital news consumers. These 'digital mavens' get news on all their devices."
"People who acquire mobile devices appear to be using them to get news on all their devices. This also suggests they may be getting more news more often," Pew said.
About a third (34 percent) of desktop/laptop news consumers now also get news on a smartphone. About a quarter (27 percent) of smartphone news consumers also get news on a tablet. While this smartphone/tablet news consumer group is small, just 6 percent of the population over all, it is a large percentage of those who own smartphones and tablets; fully 44 percent of people who own both kinds of devices use both for news. What’s more, most of those individuals (78 percent) still get news on the desktop or laptop as well.
"Our analysis suggests that news is becoming a more important and pervasive part of people’s lives," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "But it remains unclear who will benefit economically from this growing appetite for news."
That's because while digital devices "may be adding to the appeal of traditional news," there's concern that "technology intermediaries are capturing even more of the digital revenue pie" when it comes to advertising, Pew said:
While technology may be adding to the appeal of traditional news, technology intermediaries are capturing even more of the digital revenue pie. In 2011, five technology giants (Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and AOL) generated 68 percent of all digital ad revenue, according to the market research firm eMarketer — and that does not include Amazon and Apple, which make their money from devices and downloads. By 2015, roughly one out of every five display ad dollars is expected to go to Facebook, according to the same source.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter "grew substantially over the last year, but still play a limited role in daily news consumption," Pew said. "Only about a third as many news consumers follow stories via Facebook as do so by going directly to news websites or apps or by using search." When it comes to Twitter, "the proportion drops to less than a sixth as many."
“News organizations have a big opportunity in the social and mobile realms,” said Amy Mitchell, PEJ deputy director. "But they will need to do a better job than they did in the desktop realm of understanding audience behavior and developing effective technology and revenue models."
Pew surveyed more than 3,000 U.S. adults about their news consumption habits. Among the findings:
Many concerns remain, Pew says.
All this raises the question of whether the technology giants will find it in their interest to acquire major legacy news brands — as part of the 'everything' they offer consumers. Does there come a point, to ensure the much smaller media company’s survival, for instance, where Facebook considers buying a legacy media partner such as The Washington Post?
And, the research group notes, there are "already signs of closer financial ties between technology giants and news. As a part of YouTube’s plans to become a producer of original television content, a direction it took strongly last year, it is funding Reuters to produce original news shows. Yahoo recently signed a content partnership with ABC News for the network to be its near sole provider of news video. AOL, after seeing less than stellar success with its attempts to produce its own original content, purchased The Huffington Post. With the launch of its Social Reader, Facebook has created partnerships with The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and others. In March 2012 Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes purchased the 98-year-old New Republic magazine."
While the news industry itself "is not much closer to a new revenue model than a year earlier and has lost more ground to rivals in the technology industry ... growing evidence also suggests that news is becoming a more important and pervasive part of people's lives," Pew said. "That, in the end, could prove a saving factor for the future of journalism."