Mapping Online News Discovery for Computer Users in the UK
Posted: 31 Aug 2017
Date Written: August 29, 2017
This report explores how online news content was discovered (and consumed) by computer users in the UK between mid-March and mid-April 2017. Based on a passive tracking study of the desktop and laptop web browsing of more than 3,400 online news users, it identifies the news brands that were most successful in driving social along with search and direct traffic from our sample during that period. Using two case studies (the Westminster terror attacks and the forced eviction of a passenger from a United Airlines flight), it shows the complex ways in which stories are found and consumed online and the role of different news brands and paths of discovery played in the development of each story. This research finds that:
Three brands (BBC, Guardian and Mail Online) together accounted for two thirds of stories read (63%) and time spent (64%) amongst our total sample of UK news sites during the month. The BBC News website became even more important during the Westminster attacks as a source of reliable news. Three-quarters (76%) of all those who accessed any news story about the attacks used the BBC site and over half (55%) only used the BBC. Aggressive use of social and search allows some smaller brands to perform better around individual stories than they do on average, as illustrated by the Independent’s strong performance around the United Airlines passenger eviction story. Different formats are effective for different types of stories. Live blogs were by far the most popular online format during the first 12 hours of the Westminster attacks, but a 53-second video was the key driver of the United Airlines coverage. Some brands are much more reliant on side-door traffic than others. Only 22% of visits to BBC news stories come from social media, search, and other links, with 78% coming from a direct path. This contrasts with other outlets like the Sun and the Independent, which generate the majority of their traffic via third-party referrals (e.g. search engines and social media). Many brands in the UK are struggling with low engagement (time spent) and low levels of loyalty (frequency of use), which is likely to make it hard to charge for content. In general, those using social media consume more news brands than those who tend to go directly to a news website or those who tend to search for news. Those who use social media more heavily access an even wider range of brands. Overall, our analysis shows a winner-take-all environment dominated by a few major brands, but also that distributed forms of discovery, such as social media and search, generally point towards more diverse news use than direct discovery.
Keywords: New Media; Tracking Study; UK News Brands; Digital News
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