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The Chartbeat team and I just returned from an incredible trip to Vienna for the GEN Summit 2017 where the three-day action was non-stop. Perhaps most exciting was the opportunity to gather with media leaders from around the world to discuss the biggest issues facing us today.

The main themes of the week focused on how newsrooms around the world have adapted to deal with emerging trends in the industry, including the role of Facebook, the deeper need for data and technology in everyday strategies, the move to subscriptions and exploration of better monetization models, and how we can learn from each other cross-culturally.

As part of the larger discussion around the monetization of news, I participated in a panel titled “How to Monetize Content: Lessons from China.” China is an increasingly interesting news ecosystem to study, primarily because of the burgeoning tech landscape and unique media market there. But is it really as different as we think?

With media heavily regulated by the Chinese government – and with the most prominent platforms in the west, Facebook and Google, blocked entirely – publishers working with Chinese platforms primarily avoid the “news media” label to distance themselves from political news and regulations. Thus, the focus of content providers in China is not a suppressed “Hard News” approach, but instead, a “Soft Content” or lifestyle approach. Social media influencers as well as companies have been able to experiment with content and technology in new ways through this lens to both inform readers and drive revenue streams.

To illustrate this, we look at the top three apps in China, which are all homegrown technology companies. They are:

  1. Toutiao
    A news aggregator that looks and acts similar to the Facebook News Feed, without the social connections. The headlines and content a user sees are automatically selected and ranked based on previous behavior and reading history. Toutiao’s revenue model is primarily ad-based.
  2. Weibo
    Weibo is similar to Twitter with a one-directional following, and the content a user sees is organized based on both users’ selection and actual consumption. Weibo is much more social than Toutiao, and less private than WeChat. The revenue model is primarily ad-based.
  3. WeChat
    Owned by the parent company Tencent which also provides games, e-commerce and digital currency, WeChat offers all content and news separate from the main app experience. Advertising isn’t the major revenue source for WeChat, but content creators can see revenue from micropayments.

Despite the different media environments and platforms in China compared to the U.S. and Europe, the content approach is actually not as different as one might think. While there may be more freedom for publications in the U.S. and Europe to write about politics & society, lifestyle content still dominates traffic in the the West. According to the Chartbeat data below, you can see that the amount of traffic on lifestyle content outweighs that of society and politics. In China, because political content is so heavily regulated, lifestyle content is where the money is really made.

 

It is noteworthy that in both China and the West, soft content (lifestyle) is relatively easier to monetize. Both native ad formats and e-commerce are more natural extensions of this content type as they can fit more smoothly into the topic at hand.

In summary, we see that the monetization models for publishers that apply across borders are closely tied to the type of content they produce. While hard news is difficult to monetize globally and is highly dependent on the country or political or regulatory environment, soft content may be the place where global lessons – particularly from the platform standpoint – can be learned.

For more on this panel and the many others that took place at GEN, check out MediaShift’s article – Trust and Tech Take Center Stage at 2017 GEN Summit in Vienna.

This week, we partnered with The New York Times – The Upshot on a study of supply and demand in the news. Essentially, we sought to uncover how many articles news organizations wrote about a given event compared to the demand for these articles among their readers, measured by Engaged Time.

In a time of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” there’s a perception that the media isn’t covering the issues fairly and may be only covering the issues that align with the publication’s political leaning. We wanted to find out if this was really what was happening.

Bowling Green Massacre Article Supply and Demand

We looked at 148 news publishers, divided into liberal and conservative buckets by The Upshot using scores from a study done at the University of Michigan, and studied article supply and reader demand of six recent news topics:

  1. Inauguration crowd size debate
  2. Alleged Bowling Green massacre
  3. Muslim travel ban
  4. Michael Flynn’s resignation
  5. Super Bowl LI
  6. The Grammy Awards

In the end, we found this perception of media bias is not completely true, as publishers on both sides are writing about each topic roughly equally. Instead, this perception may stem from the reader demand side of things; while supply of articles written on each topic was generally consistent across conservative and liberal news outlets, readers on each side do not read the same topics equally.

It’s not media coverage but actually consumer behavior trends that shape what gets read and what doesn’t.

The polarizing perceptions of reality are not only shaped by the content supplies from newsrooms but also by demands from their audiences because, after all, news consumers are the ultimate constructors of their own realities.

Head over to The New York Times’ The Upshot to check out the full study.

Source: Al Jazeera

Source: Al Jazeera

From the time the UK referendum on EU membership was announced in February, several hundred articles per day were published on the topic of Brexit. This number broke into the thousands on June 13, ten days before the polling, and peaked at over 22,000 articles on June 24 when the Brexit results were announced.

So what can the data around Brexit teach us about how people read the news, what topics capture their attention and how they use news sources vs social and search? For this post, Chartbeat took a look at how Brexit has been covered and read, tapping into data from our network of more than 50,000 publishers, and we uncovered a few interesting patterns:

  • More coverage does not necessarily mean more reader attention
  • The channels by which readers discover stories change during an event’s lifetime
  • Traffic driven by social and search reflects people’s differing interests in Brexit stories


Let’s dive into each.

 

Media Coverage Does Not Always Equal Reader Attention


It’s not surprising that the media gave high priority coverage to this topic , yet public attention wasn’t quickly swayed toward the referendum. After all, 14 months ago the concern over the EU was only the seventh most important issue on voters’ minds according to Ipsos MORI’s survey, noted by
Peter Preston in his Guardian column.

 

The upper panel on the above chart shows how many articles mentioning Brexit were published across the Chartbeat network on a daily basis, while the lower panel shows how many hours people spent reading those articles. The dashed lines mark some important dates related to the Brexit referendum. To many voters, the polling was like a final exam that didn’t gain proper attention until the last minute.

 

hourly_posts_vs_attention.psd

Zooming into media coverage and reader attention, this second chart shows a similar trend on an hourly basis. It illustrates a “pulse” on both the supply and demand side for each day. However, while the media had a strong beat right at the start of the polling on June 23, people’s reading behavior didn’t echo as strongly until much later.

 

Story Discovery Changes During the Lifetime of a News Event


In terms of total attention, June 23 appears to have been another lukewarm day. However, when we break consumption down by referral type, it actually reveals one of the rare moments when
search traffic catches up with social traffic, highlighted in yellow on the following chart. Why is that worth noting? Social traffic is generally driven by passive browsing of news feeds and the like, whereas search traffic is driven by proactive inquiry of specific questions and topics. For that reason, social traffic tends to beat search traffic, as we see on all days other than the polling on June 23 in the following chart.

What’s also notable here is the spiking traffic driven by internal navigation. It indicates that media companies did a great job promoting Brexit stories on their websites and attracting substantial attention from their audience. When the referendum results were announced on June 24, social traffic had a huge jump, which implies people wanted to talk about it for various reasons, such as victorious joys for the Leave camp, surprise and anger for the Remain camp, consequences for overseas jobs, driver’s licences, pensions, and more.

The search spike from the announcement of the referendum results didn’t last: search traffic dwindled on June 24 as information became sufficiently diffused through social media and other communication channels.

 

hourly_referrer_type_logo_annotated

 

Even Regarding the Same Event, Search and Social Readers Consume Fundamentally Different Stories


The last chart further reveals the gap between the supply and demand for particular types of stories about Brexit. The following chart shows how many articles were published in our network around the same story (or group of articles written about the same topic and covered by various news outlets), and how many hours readers spent engaging with each story.

 

*Engagement measured in hours

The stories shown above are the top 20 as ranked by the number of articles published about that story (visualized in the upper panel). Story volume is generally driven by major events, such as the start and end of the referendum, and major forces, such as power struggles among political figures and fluctuations of financial markets.

However, in the lower three panels, we see that traffic volume, search volume, and social volume, measured by engaged hours, differ across stories. Via search, people sought explanations relevant to themselves beyond mere facts. The top searched stories are generally long-form explainers and analyses, such as “what happens if UK votes to leave” and “economic consequence if Leave wins.”

The top social stories have a distinctly different flavor. Not necessarily informative, they carry more emotions, e.g., “regrets and anger about results,” surprises, e.g., “Farage breaks Brexit pledges,” and oddities, e.g., “Brits Google what the EU is.” Unsurprisingly, Mr. Trump buckles up in the front seat on the social wagon.

Brexit news won’t be slowing down any time soon. With Boris Johnson announcing last week that he will not be running for prime minister, the debate around Scotland’s future, and the halo effect of the UK’s decision on the upcoming US election, we’ll have plenty of news to analyze and report on in the coming months.