New research finds 92 percent of time spent on news consumption is still on legacy platforms

Here is a surprising statistic from leading consultants McKinsey and Company: When you measure news consumption in the U.S. by time spent, rather than raw audience numbers, digital platforms are getting only 8 percent of the action.

McKinsey data show 35 percent of news consumption remains in newspapers and magazines, 16 percent in radio and other audio, and 41 percent television. Smart phones and tablets each account for 2 percent of time spent and desktop/laptop 4 percent.

As the chart below indicates, total time spent on the platforms yields a very different picture. Digital devices get slightly more than half of total media time — about 10 times more than newspapers and magazines. However the extended time news consumers spend with print — compared to short sessions on digital — multiplies its share sevenfold when only news consumption is considered.

The proprietary research, not previously published, was part of a presentation that McKinsey principal Michael Lamb gave to the INMA World Congress in New York a few weeks ago.

The finding, and even the attempt to measure time spent, was novel enough that I tried to answer several questions for this post.

McKinsey and Company.

How did McKinsey come up with these numbers?

Kevin Roche, who directed the research from the company’s San Francisco office, told me by phone that several sources came into play. The company drew on other studies and some observational consumer research of its own. But the most significant input was from data provided by many different clients as part of consulting engagements.

The calculation of time spent does not delve into the “second screen” phenomenon, Roche said, so if a user was watching the television news and simultaneously checking news on a digital device, each activity would count as time spent.

Researchers I spoke with had contrasting reactions. The multiple sourcing could be considered a strength, since simply asking consumers to estimate time spent has not been especially reliable. On the other hand, the company would need to weight various findings, making the numbers inexact. Also its black-box, proprietary methodology makes it next to impossible for others to evaluate the results.

Are the findings plausible? Are people really still spending that much news time with legacy media? 

While the numbers sound high, they are probably right or close to right. Gary Meo, who directs Scarborough’s newspaper research, said that his company has not tried to measure time spent, but that the results “don’t sound like they are far off.”

Newspaper readers “lean back,” as the current lingo goes, and probably spend 20 to 40 minutes over morning coffee or catching up in the evening. The legions of NPR listeners could easily log an hour of commuting drive time getting news that way. Television, while it may not get undivided attention, is on for long periods.

By contrast, many studies have found that quick checks during working hours make up a big share of online traffic. Smart phones also support a quick summary style of news consumption. Pew research and others find tablet users spending more extended time with newspaper and magazine apps, especially during evenings. But not everyone has these devices yet, and many are not using them to consume news.

I was unable to find much comparable research. Starting in 2004, Ball State’s Middletown Media Studies observed participants directly and found they spent more time with media, especially television, than they had themselves estimated. But the Ball State researchers, Mike Bloxham and Michael Holmes, told me in a visit to Poynter some years back that while isolating news consumption would be a worthwhile exercise, they had not attempted it.

Nieman Lab’s Martin Langeveld took a stab in a controversial 2009 post at the related question of how much consumption of newspaper content, measured by time spent, was in print vs. digital. His estimate was 96-97 percent print.

If McKinsey is right, are mobile news products getting disproportionate attention?

Not really. Lamb, in his INMA presentation, offered the stats to show that the notion that “mobile is taking over the world” is mostly hype for now, at least as far as news is concerned. But his larger point was that news producers should redouble and speed up their efforts to develop strong news products.

Mobile-centric and mobile-exclusive news consumers are small groups — but growing, Lamb said, and winning products need to be tailored to their news preferences and be marketed effectively.

I heard the same when I questioned mobile developers. They recognize that news apps often get only cursory attention, especially on smart phones, and the clock is running on getting stronger news products in front of smart-phone enthusiasts (typically younger people who will add to the audience for legacy media).

Cory Bergman, general manager of NBC’s Breaking News and a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board, made the case in February that mobile will disrupt journalism over the next several years and development of mobile news products should be pursued aggressively.

What are the implications for old media?

The time-spent metric suggests that there is more life in legacy formats than raw audience numbers and falling print ad revenues would imply. Since the “dying industry” meme is part of print’s problem with advertisers, this could be incorporated in a case for the medium’s continued relevance.

Time-spent statistics also fortify the notion that with fewer pages, newspapers and magazines need to be sure that they continue to produce strong content that commands mind-share and extended reading sessions among print consumers.

On the other hand, impressive time spent with print news does not by itself solve the basic advertising problem of vanished monopoly pricing power and strong competition from a wide range of targeted digital marketing options.

I don’t want to oversell the McKinsey findings. Those shorter digital sessions may be a more efficient way of consuming news and also lead to participation via comments and social media — a better experience for many now than passive reading alone.

But I also think unique monthly visitors and page views have been flawed metrics yielding big numbers that may mask light engagement. Giving more emphasis to research that illuminates time and attention to various news platforms would strengthen the case for the print half of print + digital — and for the relevance of TV and radio news consumption as well.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/martin.langeveld Martin Langeveld

    Interesting that this question is still getting knocked around.

    When it comes to ad revenue, however, it’s not a question of “time spent” or “engagement” with the media in question, and it’s not a question of “where people get their news”. As we used to train our ad salespeople: you are not selling advertising, you are selling customer traffic into the store.

    What would be interesting is a rigorous study by some national retail chain that also has a strong online sales operation — Walmart or Home Depot, let’s say. What would happen if they tested several different trackable sales promotions, over several seasons, in similar sets of markets, where one group of markets gets nothing but print ads, one group gets nothing but TV, one group gets nothing but online, one group gets nothing but radio — and then later various media combinations are tested as well — with the same amount of dollars spent in each market per promotion.

    I’m guessing they’re already doing this kind of testing, but keeping the results proprietary.

  • Avized5350

    Unfortunately reputation alone doesn’t carry. This
    survey/research/whatever-it-is-exactly just plain doesn’t add up and
    completely flies in the face of EVERY other study out there. It’s what
    we call an outlier — which is something folks usually just chalk up to
    bad data. Sniff test failed.

  • Esombeed

    Unfortunately reputation alone doesn’t carry. This
    survey/research/whatever-it-is-exactly just plain doesn’t add up and
    completely flies in the face of EVERY other study out there. It’s what
    we call an outlier — which is something folks usually just chalk up to
    bad data. Sniff test failed.

  • trufflemedia

    Missing is info on demographics. The PEW research provides better clarity into their meyhods and subjects. This seems too loose.

  • Jeanne Byington

    Not everyone is tethered to a mobile and smart device. If you work or live in certain industries and/or communities, you get a skewed view. The survey, as Iris Chyi underscores, is about the general public. What Ms. Chyi wrote passes the sniff test for me.

  • redmonds

    Different viewpoint on the McKinsey findings from Matthew Ingram of Paid Content:

    http://paidcontent.org/2013/05/13/why-focusing-on-time-spent-with-print-misses-the-point-about-how-the-news-works-now/.

    I think he and I agree that there is enough work to be done improving digital news presentation and digital ad effectiveness (mobile particularly) to keep us all busy for a long time.

  • http://twitter.com/Ryker Ryker Morgan

    Was the time it takes to consume news on digital or legacy platforms taken into account?

    Personally, I go through more news on a digital platform than the legacy platforms in a shorter amount of time. Is time spent on platforms really the question? Or is it the quantity of news digested in a certain amount of time? And how that varies from digital to legacy?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dave-Griffith/100001640122883 Dave Griffith

    Makes sense since most Americans are brainwashed by the MSM. It can only happen if these “legacy” platforms continue to bombard them with lies. Hopefully it will change one day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hoa.lequang.58 Hòa Lê Quang

    they are all essentially the same. For television, effectively all the
    usage time is media time, though only a portion of the media time is
    news. For something like mobile devices, the media time is only a
    portion of total usage time (which would also include talking, games,
    messaging apps, etc..

    In print, TV and radio,there is a certain amount of wading through what
    is not so interesting to get to the stories you really want.

    http://giamcan24h.com/Cam-nang-lam-dep/Cam-Nang-Giam-Beo/Mua-Ever-slim-o-%C4%91au-Giamcan24h-com.aspx

  • redmonds

    Good thought and minor error in this Nieman Lab tweet of my post:

    “Study finds that people spend more time with legacy media than digital media — but which is more efficient? http://t.co/U4F5M5LOlt

    Yes, digital is probably more efficient. McKinsey’s Kevin Roche noted this in one of our conversations. In digital formats you can find what you want quickly, read it and move on. In print, TV and radio,there is a certain amount of wading through what is not so interesting to get to the stories you really want.

    However it’s “more NEWS time” not “more time” with legacy and digital. In total media time, as chart shows and the post mentions, it is close to 50-50.

  • redmonds

    Here is a little further perspective from Kevin Roche at McKinsey. If you find the time spent on news finding hard to believe, think of it this way: With a newspaper or magazine, all you can do is consume news — no e-mails, no phone calls, no games, no video, no social media exchanges. So while the devices are getting more ubiquitous all the time, users are generally doing things other than news. As Kevin puts it::

    “One clarification: I would not characterize client data as the “most significant” data. The work is fundamentally based on our own primary market research, with a few calibrations for this particular analysis based on 3rd party research and our experience with many different types of clients.

    “To the extent you get into debates with TVNewsers and the like, I’d remind them of the premise here: news time is a subset of media time, and media time is a subset of total usage time. However, the degree of overlap varies substantially across the different platforms we are discussing here.

    For something like newspapers, they are all essentially the same. For television, effectively all the usage time is media time, though only a portion of the media time is news. For something like mobile devices, the media time is only a portion of total usage time (which would also include talking, games, messaging apps, etc.), and the ‘news’ time only a small portion of the media time (which also includes social networking, videos, leisure browsing, and so forth).”

  • redmonds

    TV Newser:

    What “every other study out there” are you talking about?

    Thanks to Iris and Gary for research perspective that says the McKinsey finding is basically credible.

  • Gary Meo

    If you look at the U.S. adult age 18+ newspaper media audience only (not time spent, I know), 60% of the audience comes exclusively from print; 3% comes exclusively from mobile and about 20% comes from mobile in combination with other platforms (the rest comes from newspaper websites exclusively or in combination with other platforms, including print). If the print exclusive audience spends spends 20-40 minutes with the paper each day, that’s a lot of time spent with the legacy medium. While McKinsey’s 92% percent of time spent with legacy media is probably overstated, I bet it’s not that far off.

  • http://twitter.com/irischyi iris chyi

    As a online news researcher, I don’t think such findings are surprising at all. The general public to this day is still more likely to prefer, use, and pay for news on legacy platforms.

    In terms of preference, a 2010 study shows 67% of U.S. Internet users still prefer to get news from legacy media. For more information about that study and other findings on format preference across different content categories (newspapers, magazines, music, movie, etc), see bit.ly/106sSEk

    In terms of usage, despite the excitement about newer, more portable devices, they are not nearly as “newsful” as traditional platforms (See http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17512786.2011.629125#.UZEYNKLBMko )

    In terms of paying intent for digital news content, the “analog dollars turned into digital dimes” phenomenon still holds true, despite the hype about digital paywalls. See http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14241277.2012.657284?journalCode=hijm20#.UZEZo6LBMko
    Overall, the all-digital future is speculative at best.

  • TVNewserEr

    Unfortunately reputation alone doesn’t carry. This survey/research/whatever-it-is-exactly just plain doesn’t add up and completely flies in the face of EVERY other study out there. It’s what we call an outlier — which is something folks usually just chalk up to bad data. Sniff test failed.

  • redmonds

    TVNewser:

    That is a reasonable comment, and a reaction I expected.

    I would not have done a post on a single slide from a three-day conference unless the finding was counter-intuitive in a striking way. However in looking for other research that might have found something contrary (I may have missed something) it appeared that the time spent metric had been overlooked.

    McKinsey does its own research its own way and has built a great business and great reputation as a result. So while I would like to know more about the methodology, I give the findings some credence. I can’t imagine why McKinsey would tilt to a bias favoring legacy media. And even if their estimates were off by a factor of two or three (which I doubt), you still end up with a large majority of time spent consuming news on the traditional platforms.

  • TVNewserEr

    Am I the only one that thinks this doesn’t make any sense – and additionally the way the metrics were collected (well, we looked at some other studies and did some random observations of our own but we’re not going to detail them) seem invalid.

    There’s a saying in news – if it doesn’t pass the sniff test, it’s probably wrong. Sniff sniff.