Rebecca McGrath
Rebecca is Mintel's Senior Media Analyst, specialising in areas such as consumption of news, TV viewing habits and social media.

Smartphones are rapidly becoming the go to device for consumer needs and Mintel research shows that news consumption could be no exception – particularly for younger consumers. Over a third of social network users receive news updates from social networks, rising to 44% for 16-24 year olds. It has therefore become vital for news publishers to adapt to changing habits by looking at how they can work more closely with social networks and adapt for mobile devices.

Apple and Facebook branch out into news apps

Earlier this year Apple unveiled a new News app for iOS devices, which it states “combines the visually rich layout of a magazine with the immediacy and customisation of digital media.” The app aggregates content from major publishers, such as the Guardian, ESPN and the The New York Times. There will be an increased focus on personalisation, with the new app recommending publications and allowing you to choose topics. Once the app learns where a user’s interests lie it provides ‘suitable’ content. A discovery feature is also included letting readers find new stories.

The app tracks over one million topics and will initially offer 33 tailored articles a day. Publishers will still own the content, control the format of the article and will be able to sell premium ads through the app. Apple also announced that it will be using editors rather than algorithms in order to select and organise content.

Prior to Apple’s announcement Facebook introduced Instant Articles, a feature targeted towards media outlets that allows them to minimise their loading times on mobile devices by letting them upload content directly onto the network. The feature is currently still only available to a test audience.

The changing news industry

With the news industry increasingly dominated by mobile consumption, the increased focus of Facebook and Apple on news collation platforms seems a logical next step and offers a potentially much needed boost for the publishing industry. Publishers could gain access to hundreds of millions of new readers and currently both Apple and Facebook are promising to enable publishers to earn 100% of the revenue from ads they sell and 70% from adverts sold by Facebook or Apple.

However, there are concerns that the development of these platforms could be a ‘final nail in the coffin’ for many news brands, threatening digital revenue and cementing the idea that news content should be free. Publishers are going to have to fight to maintain control over content and advertising, pushing the platforms to enable them to continue to stand out so that individual news brands are not entirely swallowed up.

Publishers are also up against consumer opinion. Apple and Facebook appear to be responding to consumer preferences, offering faster, streamlined experiences with content all in one place. Indeed, Mintel’s National Newspaper UK 2015 report shows that only 10% of online newspaper readers have paid or are willing to pay for digital news content. And as ad blocking technology becomes more widespread, regardless of their concerns it seems likely that publishers are going to have to embrace the Apple/Facebook platform options.

Can Apple compete with Facebook?

Apple is taking on an interesting challenge by going up against Instant Articles. As the world’s major social network Facebook has a head start, in that consumers are accustomed to obtaining their news from the network, intermixed with their social content. The fear for Apple is that, as with its earlier news app attempt Newsstand, simply not enough people will be regularly inclined towards the app. On-top of ensuring that its platform is stylish and efficient, with constant improvements being made to its personalisation elements, Apple may wish to introduce limited push notifications. The Buzzfeed app, for example, has implemented push notifications in order to keep people interested and engaged. Push notifications may help Apple’s news app become people’s first point of call for consuming news. The feature could also offer some reassurance to publishers regarding the volume of people that will potentially be reading their content.

Rebecca McGrath is Research Analyst at Mintel, joining the company in 2013. She specialises in research for leisure and media reports.