Tablet owners read national, local news more often than they did before

Tablet users say they consume more news than they did previously and rely more on traditional news providers, according to a new survey. They also want more control and customization options than current apps offer.

The study sponsored by the BBC and Starcom MediaVest measured how tablet owners are changing their news consumption, and what opportunities it creates for publishers. (The methodology included a small number of in-depth interviews, an online survey of about 1,100 news-consuming adults, and a weeklong experiment where a dozen people where either deprived of or immersed in tablet content to gauge their responses.)

The results overall are encouraging for publishers hoping that iPads and other emerging tablets will play an important role in their digital futures. Among the most interesting findings:

  • 63 percent of people said tablets lead them to rely more on traditional news providers and less on news aggregators.
  • Tablets enhance the appetite for news. Fifty-nine percent said they access national or local news more often since they got a tablet. Seventy-eight percent said they follow a larger volume of news stories, and a greater variety of topics than before.

Tablets make news consumption easier and more engaging; Eighty-one percent said having a tablet makes following the news “more interesting and enjoyable.”

Sixty-three percent said tablets make news stories “feel more real, or bring me closer to what’s happening.” One of the anonymous interview subjects had this explanation: “Holding a picture of a victim of combat in your lap, at your fingertips, it’s much more intimate, there’s something much more human. On a desktop, I’m not touching the story, it’s on a screen – it’s more separate.”

These findings come on the heels of other recent positive news that showed iPad users spend more time with news apps than with other types of apps. Another report, from comScore, showed nearly three out of five tablet owners (58 percent) consume news on their tablets at least occasionally.

What tablet users want next

The BBC survey also sought insight into what opportunities and strategies publishers should pursue in the future. Tablet users said they would like more control — more personalization of content and more customization options for how content is presented.

  • 85 percent want options for “further customizing the depth of coverage I see for different types of stories.”
  • 85 percent also want “more tablet-specific content that allows me to interact with news stories in a hands-on way.”
  • 80 percent want the ability to “customize the format of news coverage for certain types of news stories.”
  • 73 percent want news feeds or stories that are “automatically related to where I am and what I am doing.”

This is a pretty good forecast of what the second generation of tablet apps or tablet-friendly websites will look like. The first generation has been about shoveling traditional news reports into a newly designed package. The next generation will require news organizations to go deeper and rethink fundamental aspects of their news reports.

How do you create a new type of news package that lets one user get an in-depth report full of nuance, but gives a different user just the highlights and adds background on the subject? How do you let each user designate the depth of coverage she wants for different subjects? How will you localize your content offering to match the user’s current location?

These are difficult questions, perhaps with more than one right answer. Finding those answers will require that newsrooms, designers and developers all understand the new imperatives and work together to invent not only new apps, but new storytelling forms.

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