Thursday, 26 September 2013

Mobile News: Service Design in focus

The modern smartphone market is now six years old. When the iPhone was introduced in 2007 the vision was that all of us will have the internet in our pockets, and now that is more true than ever. The recent Nielsen report shows that 64% of U.S. mobile phone owners have chosen a smartphone. In addition, 80% of Americans who had bought a mobile phone in the past three months purchased a smartphone.

Age seems to be a large factor in smartphone penetration, as 81% of young people between 25 and 34 are smartphone users and teens are not far behind with a penetration of 70%. Among older people aged 55+ half of the people are still using feature phones. Obviously this bears a relevance for service design, as many of the new media services are clearly designed for the diginatives.

As for the mobile ecosystem Android and iOS dominate the smartphone market in the U.S. More than half of U.S. smartphones are running Android, while 40% are iPhones. Windows phone has a market share of only 2%, so Microsoft has a long way to go as it now bought the mobile device business from Nokia. The business opportunities may prove bigger in the emerging markets in Asia and South America, where the smartphone penetration is lower than in Europe and the U.S.

Nielsen smartphone os graph

News services are available for smartphones and tablets in a variety of apps from traditional news organizations like BBC, CNN, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The New York Times and many, many more. Almost half of UK internet users are going online via mobile phone data connections, according to the Office for National Statistics. The most rapid growth was among younger people, where 71% of internet-connected 16 to 24-year-olds used mobiles. BBC has reported that mobile access to its services has increased rapidly and is more than 50% of all traffic on weekends. BBC's popular iPlayer service is widely accessed on smartphones and tablets. Viewers prefer the tablet form factor for TV viewing, with accelerating sales of the devices leading to increased streaming media consumption. As for The Financial Times 15-20% of new subscriptions each week are being sold on a mobile device and advertising on mobile devices is increasing. FT has reported that mobile devices account for more than one third of traffic and app usage is growing particularly fast in the age group from 25 to 34 year-olds. 

In the recent Digital News Report from Reuter's Institute for the Study of Journalism it was found that 49% of 18 to 24-year-olds read a digital newspaper, the highest reach of any age group. The survey of 11,000 internet users in nine countries revealed that 25 to 34-year-olds are twice as likely to part with their cash for digital news than older readers. According to the study, 20% of 25- to 34-year-olds said they had paid for online news compared with less than 10% of those aged over 55. This should be good news for all media firms developing new services. And multi-platform availability of services is increasingly important, as illustrated by the figure below.

It is quite important that the user experience is matched with the device being used, so service design is actually about the combination of relevant content combined with the right kind of user experience on each platform being used for media consumption. Not forgetting the relevance of building elements for engagement and social sharing.

Many of the new services are being designed with these principles in mind. For example The Washington Post has just launched 'Topicly' - a highly visual platform for its website and mobile platforms. Grouping articles by theme and then linking these under an image in a grid, the homepage is a collection of different news topics. You can then navigate onwards to relevant stories, commentaries, graphics and multimedia surrounding the issue. Topicly is powered by proprietary technology to give users timely news that Post editors think will interest readers. All Post journalism — stories, blog posts, photos, videos — is being processed in 15-minute snapshots, and topics are being determined in real-time based on content. The more content that is published about a topic, the higher the topic appears in the display.

Advertising on the site is native, so all adverts appear in the same format as the news topics around them. Land Rover, the official launch sponsor, for example, has its own grid on the homepage, the only significant difference being that it is qualified as a ‘sponsored topic’. I guess you could call this content marketing. The new service is particularly aimed at mobile users, and the plan is to include social media data in its algorithm.

Another interesting newcomer is NowThis News - the social news video startup is building its service on short, visual news videos. NowThis News is available as a website and apps for Android and iOS users. Not unlike the popular BuzzFeed service, NowThis News is aiming at the diginative audience and it has also developed a short-format video service for Instagram with short 15 second news video clips. The photo-sharing-turned-video-sharing app is one that a number of news organizations have played around with, but few have made the sort of push NowThis has. Editor-in-chief Ed O’Keefe says the shorter style of video it produces for Instagram and Vine is now “the focus of our company”, according to an an article published by NiemanJournalismLab

NowThis News is an aggregator i.e. it gets most of its raw material from other sources, but it curates the content to fit each platform. Of a staff of 37, 22 NowThis News employees are dedicated to producing content, two of whom focus on Instagram full time. The aim is to post up to 12 clips a day, depending on the day and the flow of breaking news. Now there's a service for the diginatives, no long form journalism here.

Other media companies with an active presence on Instagram include NBC offering teasers of interviews, MTV has clips of celebrities on the red carpet, and Time and Wired put out video clips. A few, including CNN and the Wall Street Journal, use Instagram to issue calls for user engagement.The Washington Post is one of the few that has made a more substantial attempt at putting news on Instagram. The question here is Instagram the right platform for news services and what is the logic for building revenue? 

Last but not least: an interesting new service in Scandinavia is Aftonbladet Flip, available on the tablet (In Swedish). Aftonbladet is already the most popular mobile news service in Sweden. Its brand new iPad edition is quite visual and simple to navigate i.e. you can tap on the content on the home page and open up a window of more articles relating to the chosen topic of top news, culture, fashion, entertainment, sports, TV content etc. The home page includes sponsored content from an advertiser. As a reader you can log in on Facebook, get recommendations for articles from your friends and participate in developing the service. In fact Aftonbladet's development team have really listened to users in the process of designing the new user interface. 

Commercially Aftonbladet has been leading the way in Scandinavia in building digital revenue. In fact Aftonbladet was the first Swedish newspaper on the Internet in 1994. Early in 2013 Aftonbladet was the first newspaper in the Nordic countries to report more revenue from online advertising than print advertising, based on a total reach of more than 2.8 million daily readers. Mobile advertising revenues are growing rapidly, according to Raoul Grünthal, the CEO of Schibsted Sweden.

In the next blog post I will take a closer look at new media concepts for tablets and mobile news services in Finland. The rapidly increasing smartphone penetration in the Nordic countries and the popularity of mobile news gives plenty of opportunity to design new services. Maybe we will see a news service designed for younger people in Finland as well, similar to NowThis News.

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