How Users Consume News Online: Insights from The Reuters Institute Digital News Report

My last blog post explored the future of news, using ideas and data from a lecture and the Reuters Institute’s Digital New Report 2013. This post examines the report data on a more granular level, and provides actionable insights for consultants, editors and publishers alike, on how they should incorporate the data when researching their target audience and personas.

We will look at:

  1. News access by device by country and device overlap

  2. Where news is accessed

  3. Popular content formats

  4. Top ways of finding news by age

Note: All data in this post comes from the Reuters Institute's Digital New Report. 2013

News Access by Device by Country

  • 33% of participants read news on at least 2 devices

  • the number of screens is directly proportional to the amount of news consumption

  • smart phone use increased frequency of access, not depth of engagement

In the chart below we can see that the UK and the US users are behaving in a broadly similar manner, however there is much variation between the non-English speaking countries. Denmark is the front runner in smartphone and tablet usage, whereas Japan is lagging behind. Use of ebook readers is consistently small, which is is disheartening given the efforts many publishers are going to to repurpose their content for this format.

Online News Access by Device by Country Online News Access by Device by Country

Keep this data in mind when you are designing your content, it needs to look good on numerous types of device because it will likely be read on varying different types of device. This data can inform that decision as it will guide you concerning the targeted country’s device preferences. This is an obvious point, made by many before me, however this data confirms it again for anyone still reluctant to embrace the challenge of designing for different screen sizes.

The survey respondents were also asked about device overlap, 33% of the participants read news on at least two devices, a further 9% use more than three. The number of screens becomes pertinent because the survey results reveal that as people acquire more devices, they consume more news in aggregate (time spent) as well as accessing news more often throughout the day. This trend was true across the entire data set.

In terms of your general content production, consider the likely number of devices of your target audience as this directly impacts the amount of time they spend accessing content. (The survey unfortunately does not provide ratios or figures). This information will then be useful when it comes to measuring the campaign’s success. By factoring in this information in your projections (when you are trying to get buy-in) you should, in theory, be better equipped to accurately predict the number of shares/time on screen or any other metric that you care to measure, managing the expectations of all parties involved.

Frequency of access grows with number of devices Frequency of access grows with number of devices

For the more visual amongst you, here’s a groovy Venn diagram. Device_overlap

To look at this data in a third way (hammering this point home!), it is clear that computer usage is consistently popular with all age groups, however for those over 35, smart phone usage plummets as the ages increase. This trend is not quite as pronounced with tablets and, as tablets are comparatively new devices, it seems likely that this trend will continue as tablets increase in popularity.

Of course, the advantages of each device type come into play at this point.

Focusing on the US + UK  results, 79% of respondents agreed that their smartphones are “used for accessing quick news updates during the day”. See the first column in the chart below.

Mobile Phone Content Preferences - US + UK Mobile Phone Content Preferences - US + UK

The main takeaway from this dataset is that smart phone usage increases frequency of access but not depth of engagement. Keep this in mind when you are designing your content and also, when you measure your results, because this data would suggest that time on site when using a smartphone should ideally be less (think “quick updates”) than for a tablet or computer screen (favoured for longer, more in depth content). If your content is designed with the varying devices in mind, not all visits should be considered equal for the time on site metric in particular. For example, content designed to be read on a bus (more on this later) on a smartphone should be shorter and punchier than content you imagine someone reading at leisure in their living room on a Sunday afternoon. As fanciful as these scenarios might seem, it is important to visualize where you think users might read your content, as it will inform decisions on content length, type and the best forms to use.

For publishers it might also be worth developing products that recognize the frequency/depth issue, Medium is an example of someone doing this well, with their ‘mins read’ feature, see the screen shot below. This tells readers the time it will take to read the content and thus allows users to choose for themselves based on their interest and the amount of time they want to commit.


Let me dream a little now, but if this concept proves successful, it could be useful for publishers to develop different versions of their content, based upon the length of time it takes to read, the short, medium and long versions so, the user can make an informed decision depending on where they are, how much time they want to invest and the device they are using.

Tablet Content Preferences - US + UK Tablet Content Preferences - US + UK

As you might expect, tablet users are happier accessing both quick and in depth news on their device, which given the larger screen size makes sense.

It is also noteworthy that 35% US and 43% UK of tablet users like the optimised touch screen and swipe interfaces, so design content with this interactivity in mind to capitalize on tablets’ growing popularity.

Where News Is Accessed

  • ~70% of participants consume news in a communal home space

  • ~27.5% consume news whilst at work

  • ~11% consume news on public transport

Another interesting theme is explored in the survey, where people access news.

The data is limited to Denmark and The UK as it is the first time they have included these questions in the survey, however the results are broadly similar, enough to suggest that this data may well be applicable for other countries.

Where News is Accessed - UK + Denmark Where News is Accessed - UK + Denmark

It appears that users enjoy accessing news in shared space at home (~70%) as well as in private spaces, which I take to mean bedrooms and possibly bathrooms, although, let’s not dive into the latter too deeply. In terms of broader content this suggests that as people read something they like/enjoy/hate, they might well talk about it to anyone in the room with them, as well as sharing it online with their social networks

Data from the survey suggests that 44% of users (median result) do just this, with Japan being an exception at just 17%. This might be frustrating for anyone looking to measure the success of a piece of content, as it is not tangible, but it does imply that the conversation has continued offline and into the real world, which could be classed as a win for branding.



There is also opportunity for work or commute-related content as these are both popular places to read. (~27.5% and ~11% respectively)

Content Formats

  • lists are still popular

  • video content is particularly popular in urban Brazil and the USA

Types of Content Accessed by Country Types of Content Accessed by Country

Broadly speaking, everyone loves a list and the front page style format. The US, Spain and Brazil have taken to video more than the other countries in the survey. Pictures and graphics are particularly popular in Brazil, Japan, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Top Ways of Finding News - by age

  • Social media is the most popular gateway to news for the under 35s

In my last post, I shared data about how people find their news by country. This time, we are looking by age group, as this will be useful when it comes to understanding your target audience.

Top Gateways by Age Top Gateways by Age

Social is now the most important way people under 35 find the news (when looking at all of the data across countries) however on an individual country level, there is a fair amount of variety in the results and this should be factored in when figuring out how your target audience finds content.

To look in more detail, the survey compared the US and the UK.

Top Gateways to News: US + UK Top Gateways to News: US + UK

The US has more faith in social networks than the UK, and less trust in established news brands. As sites likes Buzzfeed (listen to the 11 minute NPR piece NPR The Tricky Business of Predicting Where Media Will Go Next for details) continue to grow, it looks like US publishers should continue to gravitate to the social sharing model. For UK publishers the direction of travel is not as clear-cut, established brands still hold ~35% of the market for all users (those both over and under 35) whilst search is a solid 24%. Social is not yet as popular in the UK, however this may well change over the next year.

Data exists by country, by device and by location: using this data to understand your current users and your target audience as this will enhance the content you produce. You can target more precisely and, as these surveys grow in scope and there is more data to review each year, it will be possible to spot new trends and patterns which can be used to your own advantage.

The relentless pace of change in the publishing industry fascinates me, please do share any ideas or oddities you have noticed as you go about your browsing lives.

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