The growth of digital technology has encouraged the media to make significant investments in upgrading online news properties in hopes of “owning” customers, but a McKinsey study suggests that consumers are thwarting these efforts. The research—an online survey of 2,100 consumers in the United States—found that people divide their time among as many as 16 news brands a week.
The survey posed questions about several aspects of respondents’ news consumption, including its frequency and duration, as well as their attitudes toward news.
The company found that consumers rely on a large number of media brands: 12 to 16 a week across all five platforms ((radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet). Moreover, respondents reported using many of those brands daily or, in the case of Internet news sites, several times a day. The reasons given for such “brand promiscuity” included the feeling that “every news event has at least two sides,” the need to “get all the facts,” to “form my own opinion,” and the desire to find specific types of content, such as local news.
Nevertheless, respondents expressed clear preferences for certain platforms. Television and the Internet, for instance, were much more likely to be described as useful (by 45 and 26 percent of respondents respectively) than newspapers, radio, and magazines (18, 10, and 1 percent, respectively). When asked to explain which sources of news were most useful, respondents expressed a preference for those offering convenience, comprehensiveness, or timeliness rather than quality.
The most significant differences among respondents concerned their motivations for consuming news. McKinsey identified three segments—“citizen readers,” “news lovers,” and “digital cynics,” representing 18, 15, and 18 percent of respondents, respectively—that make up 75 percent of the audience for online news sites and are thus particularly attractive to media companies seeking to expand their digital offerings. Four other segments—“traditionalists,” “a few main sources,” “headliners,” and the “uninvolved”—had much less interest in online platforms.
Citizen readers believe they have a responsibility to stay informed about current events and follow news stories to feel connected to other people in their regions, their countries, and the world. Almost two-third (63 percent) of them considers newspaper reading an important ritual passed down by their families.
By contrast, digital cynics enjoy consuming news much less than other respondents, and feel little responsibility to stay informed. Nearly half of those in this group say that all news sources are biased, and many report that they trust few news sources to provide accurate information. In addition, digital cynics were the most likely respondents to avail themselves of alternative news sources, such as blogs or comedy news programs such as Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, for instance). Digital cynics, like citizen readers, are heavy consumers of TV and the Internet but have more or less abandoned newspapers.
“Our findings have significant implications for media companies,” says Andre Dua and Liz Hilton Segel of McKinsey. “A multisource aggregator, for example, could step in to meet the consumers’ desire for volume and variety in online news. A national news organization could present its version of major events but also select and provide links to related stories, blogs, and videos produced by others. Websites featuring national news could partner with the sites of local newspapers or TV stations to serve up local content beyond the real-estate ads and weather-related search functions typically available.
“Media companies have a significant opportunity to develop niche news products for underserved consumer segments, particularly the digital cynics. Winning the trust of this group will be challenging, as it requires a fundamentally different editorial sensibility. Given the size of the segment—24 million adults—and the number of advertisers coveting it, the prize could be substantial for those that succeed.”