Digital News Report: 7 Key Themes

Ben Matthews

By Ben Matthews

In Blog, Empower Life, Moments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

smartphone news use 2015

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report has been released for 2015, delivering useful and timely data about the transition to digital. Each year, the report brings together an annual benchmarked international survey and a series of essays which help to contextualise some of the key themes.

This year’s report reveals new insights about digital news consumption based on a YouGov survey of over 20,000 online news consumers in the US, UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Brazil, Japan and Australia. This year’s data shows a quickening of the pace towards social media platforms as routes to audiences, together with a surge in the use of mobile for news, a decline in the desktop internet and significant growth in video news consumption online.

Here are the seven key themes from the Digital News Report 2015:

1. Smartphones are the device for digital news consumption

The smartphone is clearly the defining device for digital news with a disruptive impact on consumption, formats, and business models. Smartphones provide an environment dominated by a few successful brands, with others struggling to reach a wider audience, both via apps and browsers.

News accessed from smartphones has jumped significantly over the last 12 months, particularly in the UK, US, and Japan. Average weekly usage has grown from 37 to 46% across all our countries. Two-thirds of smartphone users (66%) are now using the devices for news every week.

2. Under 35s not watching TV news

The move to online video, new visual formats, and social media coincides in many countries with a fall in audiences for traditional TV bulletins. The trend is most pronounced amongst the under 45s.

This is particularly the case with the young where in the United States less than a third (31%) of under 45s now watch a scheduled TV bulletin compared with 42% two years ago. It is a similar story in the UK – 46% down from 56% in 2013.

3. Facebook leads the way in news consumption on social media

There has been a strengthening in the role played by Facebook in finding, discussing and sharing news. Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp are playing a big role amongst younger groups.

Publishers have reported greater traffic from Facebook following changes to its algorithms and the introduction of autoplay for short videos. Data shows that Facebook is becoming increasingly dominant, with 41% (+6) using the network to find, read, watch, share, or comment on the news each week – more than twice the usage of its nearest rival.

digital news report 2015

Facebook and Twitter remain the most important networks for news in terms of referrals and engagement, but there are important differences between the two. In Facebook – which has a very general audience and wide remit – the pursuit of news is secondary, with the main aim being communicating with friends. Twitter, on the other hand, is seen much more as an active destination for news by an audience that is deeply interested in latest developments.

4. Rise in online video news

There has been a significant increase in the consumption of online news video, notably in Spain (+10), Denmark (+8), UK (+5), Italy (+5), and Japan (+5). This reflects the new strategies from social networks to display and play more video and a greater supply of video from publishers.

News organisations have set up or expanded teams over the last year to create – or repackage video – partly because advertising premiums are far higher than for text news and partly to take advantage of new distribution opportunities.

5. Concerns over “filter bubbles” may be misguided

The increasing importance of search and social as gateways to news has raised concerns over online ‘filter bubbles’, but our respondents say these services help them find more diverse news and lead them to click on brands they do not normally use.

Three-quarters of social media users (76%) and search users (73%) said they sometimes or frequently accessed different sources – leading them to brands they would not otherwise use.

The other key point about social news discovery is that it reaches different demographics. Those who visit news sites regularly, sign up for email, or receive mobile notifications are heavily male skewed. Search is more even but social is the only discovery mechanism that appeals more to female users.

6. The battle for global audiences intensifies

There is an an intensifying battle for global audiences online involving new players like the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, expanding global newspapers like the Guardian and New York Times and old stalwarts including the BBC and CNN.

The internet has removed the barriers around distribution of news and this has led over the years to several attempts to create a news formula that can repeated profitably across the world. Yahoo and MSN built successful businesses around email and web news portals, but now these are losing ground to a new wave of digital-born companies based on social and mobile news approaches. Yahoo News, for example, has lost almost a third of its US reach in the last two years.

By contrast, the Huffington Post is one of the most accessed sites in the United States and now also operates in 14 countries around the world. Buzzfeed has doubled its reach in the US and UK over the last year and has established a strong foothold in a number of countries amongst the young. Vice is also making its mark with online video content that speaks to a younger generation.

7. Consumers don’t like online advertising

The report found significant consumer dissatisfaction with online advertising, expressed through the rapid take up of ad blockers and disquiet over the blurring lines between editorial and advertising.

Consumers are voting with their feet as they get bombarded with more and more intrusive advertising online. 47% of our US sample and 39% in the UK don’t see always see ads because they use ad-blocking software to screen them out. More generally, a third or more (39% in the UK and 30% in the US) say they ignore ads. Around three in ten (31/29%) say they actively avoid sites where ads interfere with the content.

Against this background, it is not surprising that many publishers are abandoning the old models in favour of new ‘native’ advertising or sponsored content. Buzzfeed, Vox, and Vice are leading the charge, with the New York Times, Washington Post, and Guardian amongst traditional news organisations setting up creative teams to work on editorial content with brands.

It is a complex area with many different variants of native advertising emerging. There are few standards on labelling or common agreement on best practice. The area is particularly controversial in the industry because it tends to blur the line between editorial and advertising.

You can find the whole report, including the summary of key findings and essays accompanying the findings, at