Is it the end of the native news app?

Hamish Vallabh
By Hamish Vallabh under Insights 19 November 2015

As the world has become more ‘digital’, so too have the ways in which people now consume news content. This shift is happening in two significant ways. The first is the rise in people accessing news via their mobile devices, and the second is the rise in people who consume news through social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter...and even Snapchat.  

Although the rise of mobile devices has made it easier for people to access the news wherever and whenever they like, it also means that news organisations are no longer just competing against other news organisations for readership. They’re now competing against all of the things that fulfill the jobs that people ‘hire’ newspapers to do. Whether it’s to keep them entertained, kill time on the tube, or keep them informed, the rise of mobile devices means that newspapers compete against the likes of games, social networking, YouTube, Netflix - the list goes on and on.

Perhaps this is why over the last 12 months, news organisations have increasingly shifted their attention to more cost efficient methods of content distribution - such as via social media, where publishers can get their content in front of massive, highly engaged audiences who are likely to share the stories that matter to them.

In a bid to get in on the action, companies like Facebook and Apple, both of which have massive user bases, recently launched their own content distribution models for news publishers - Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. Instant Articles pushed full articles from a range of publications directly into your news feed (and loading them in the background while you scroll), so that users can read articles without loading a web page in Facebook.

Apple, meanwhile, takes a different approach, introducing a dedicated News app alongside iOS 9 earlier this year. It aggregates content from participating publishers and allows users to curate feeds from the news outlets they enjoy. Apple News will even learn its user’s reading preferences, and tailor what they see based on past behaviour.

For news publishers, these new platforms provide three key advantages:

The huge penetration of both iOS and Facebook gives publishers access to a massive pool of user attention. Over a billion people now use Facebook every day, averaging more than 20 minutes on the platform. Both platforms also encourage sharing, increasing the odds that their articles will spread.

Both Facebook’s and Apple’s news platforms let users enjoy articles that reflect the style of the publications they come from, with the added interactivity that digital provides. In addition, Facebook’s Instant Articles leverage the same technology used to display photos and videos quickly within the Facebook app, so articles load instantly - as much as 10x faster than the standard mobile web.

Both Facebook and Apple will give publishers 100% of ad revenue - if they sell their own display ads within the app. Alternatively, they will take a 30% cut if the ads are sold via the Facebook or iAd network. Publishers can closely track the performance of their content, giving advertisers complete transparency over their ad activity.

So why bother building an app?

On the surface, these new content distribution platforms appear to be a win-win proposition, so it begs the question: why would news organisations want to have a native app? In the diagram below we highlight four key reasons a native app is still a valuable investment for the right publication - at the right time.

So what should news publishers do?

The short answer is: it depends.

For smaller news publishers, it might not be worth building an expensive native app. Relying on their web presence in combination with distributing their articles via Facebook or Apple News would be more efficient because it would allow them to get their content in front of the masses for relatively minimal financial outlay. However, it would also mean foregoing total control of the reading experience, the reader relationship, and the advertising model.

For more established publishers with a large, pre-existing readerships, a native app in combination with distribution via Facebook and Apple would be a worthy investment - extending reach, deepening relationships with readers, and increasing revenue with advertising across all multiple platforms.

At TAB, we believe there’s a role for Facebook, Apple News and native apps in the strategies of news publications. However, given the benefits and tradeoffs of each, it’s crucial not to run blindly into any of them.