FML Blog

Publishers focus on audience engagement for 2016

by Nic Newman, Researcher at Reuters Institute

Sunday, January 17, 2016      Nic Newman       0

News organisations say increasing audience engagement is a top priority in 2016 as they face rising challenges over ad-blocking and the rise of distributed content. They are also keeping an eye on the future with plans for online video, new immersive storytelling and Virtual Reality.


130 senior digital leaders from more than 25 countries, took part in our Reuters Institute survey focussed on key industry challenges and opportunities. The survey forms part of a more detailed look at the rapidly changing media and technology landscape published by the Reuters Institute last week.  


Engagement as top priority


Most publishers have spent the last few years trying to build up the numbers of visitors to their websites and apps. Now, concerns about advertising driven models are forcing many publishers to rethink – to refocus efforts on maximising loyalty and engagement.  


From the survey:


“We saw record of numbers of readers coming to us in 2015. In 2016, our biggest opportunity is to turn that interest into a more deeply engaged audience”Julia Beizer, Director of Product Washington Post


Over half of digital leaders surveyed – most in Europe – said increasing levels of engagement (54%) would be top priority in 2016, although in most cases this was still balanced with a desire to maintain or increase reach.


Top strategic priorities for 2016

Reuters Institute Digital Leaders Survey 2016 n=123


Reuters Institute Digital Leaders Survey 2016


The move to distributed content has particularly focussed minds on how to engage users using new third party tools (e.g. Facebook Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover, Apple News and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages).


Many have recently set up audience engagement teams – or have plans to do so. The BBC and the Financial Times were amongst publishers joining this trend in 2015 and will be hitting their stride in 2016.


“[This] will be the year that we begin to understand what success really looks like, and realize that it takes as many different forms as there are different audiences on different platforms”. Renée Kaplan, head of audience engagement at the FT


This new complexity is recognised in our survey where over three quarters (76%) of respondents said that it would be critical to improve the use and understanding of data in the newsroom this year.  


How important will it be to improve the use data in the newsroom in 2016?





From the survey:


 “We need to build deeper loyalty amongst the audience at a time of increasing distribution fragmentation. This is critical to creating a robust business model”


Around two-thirds of publishers who responded to our survey (65%) had deployed Chartbeat in their newsrooms to provide real time feedback. 15% were using NewsWhip, a specialist tool for understanding how content is performing in social media, and almost half (45%) had also built their own home-grown systems to help understand how content was being used.  


New formats for engagement


Audience engagement is not just about maximising the value of existing content, it is increasingly about developing and testing new formats designed to work in a mobile and social context.


Chief amongst these is video where many publishers are finding that they can generate more engagement and traction that with an old fashioned text article:



“Producing great, digital, visual, mobile-oriented video and animation is becoming cheaper and can be integrated easier into newsroom workflows. 2016 will be the year when visual content becomes really scalable.” - Anita Zielina, Editor-in-Chief New Products, NZZ



In our survey of digital leaders, 79% of respondents said they would be investing more heavily in video in 2016. Key reasons cited include more consumer interest in visual content, higher advertising premiums and more native distribution opportunities within platforms like Facebook and Twitter.  


What are your company’s plans for online video this year? [caption id="attachment_3917" align="aligncenter" width="646"]Source: Reuters Institute Digital Leaders Survey 2016, n=118 (excluding don’t knows)

Source: Reuters Institute Digital Leaders Survey 2016, n=118 (excluding don’t knows)[/caption]

Many of the world’s largest newspaper groups are ramping up their production with video and other more experimental visual formats:

  • The New York Times sees video as central to its growth and engagement strategy, investing in long form and documentary movies and has also experimented with Virtual Reality.
  • The Washington Post has put TV and video at the heart of its new newsroom with four live-shot locations.
  • News Corp has bought Unruly to drive more socially relevant video for its brands and for advertisers.
  • Bildand Die Welt are among German publishers stepping up video production.


An inspiration for many has been start ups like AJ+, NowThis and Vocativ – as well as Buzzfeed, which has invested in a 250 strong LA based video production unit called Buzzfeed Motion Pictures. These companies produce up to 100 short videos week and often use data and technology to help producers achieve scale and define success.


It’s long overdue, but 2016 looks like being a year when publishers really start to change their ways. With loyalty and attention now at a premium they’ll be focussing on creating the most audience engagement possible through new formats and new forms of distribution.


Survey methodology


130 people took part in a closed survey in December 2015. Participants were selected because they held senior positions (editorial, technical and commercial) in traditional or digital born publishing companies and were responsible for aspects of digital strategy. Job titles included Editor in Chief, CEO, Head of Digital, Chief Product Officer and Director of Video.


Some quotes do not carry names or organisations, at the request of those contributors.


Most participants were from organisations with a print background but around 15% came from public service or commercial broadcasters. Over 25 countries are represented in the survey including the US, Brazil and Japan but the majority came from European countries such as the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Finland and Spain.


Also from the Reuters Institute in 2016


  • Audience Data and Metrics in Newsrooms – launch February 2016
    • The State of Public Service News – March 2016
  • What's Happening to TV News - Spring 2016
  • Online News Video – May 2016
  • The Reuters Institute Digital News Report - June 2016.


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