Datawatch: News accounts for less than four percent of time spent online

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Jasper Jackson, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Newspapers

Newspapers B&W (3)

People still want news online – even if they aren’t prepared to pay for it. Right? In the context of a widening digital economy it's important to consider just how big a role online news and information plays.

Last year, British online news consumers spent an almost 34 hours online each month but only spent an average of just 42.9 minutes per month on UK newspaper companion websites, according to figures from Comscore.

In other words, people who visit newspaper websites on average spend only around one and a half minutes looking at them per day.

In comparison to other activities such as social networking and watching videos, online newspaper readership accounts for a tiny fraction of time spent online - just two percent.

What do people do online? Here's your competition, from Ofcom's Communications report 2012 (see: Four things you need to know about young people's media habits)

Ofcom communications report site by age


Even when you widen the net to what Comscore describes as news/information sites (the top news information sites in the UK are: BBC, Mail Online, The Guardian, About, Yahoo!-ABC News Network, Telegraph, Huffington Post Sites, Gannett Sites), the figure only rises to 3.6 percent of time online.

The below graph puts that in perspective:

Time spent on news consumption comscore


Update: This has been changed to reflect the fact the figures from Barb are weekly not monthly. TV viewing takes up much more time than is spent on the internet. 

For a bit more perspective, consider that in September 2012 the average time spent watching TV was more than 26 hours per month per week (figures from Barb).

 Average monthly minutes spent by medium (comscore, Rajar, Barb)


Newspapers play an integral big role in the national debate, but they don’t take up very much of the average consumer’s attention online. That’s a big problem for any newspaper relying on ads and it will only grow as ad buyers move towards more sophisticated ways of measuring the impact of ads, such as viewable impressions, and more sophisticated ad formats such as rich media and video replace banner ads.

Newspapers have two options here if they hope online ads will replace declining print revenues: They can either attract more people and use data profiling to more intelligently monetise their audience, or they can convince advertisers that their inventory is more valuable than that of upstart rivals (or they could just sue Google.)

Grabbing more attention

The Comscore figures do offer some consolation for the news business  Through 2012, 64 percent of those who used the internet visited at least one newspaper website and for news and information sites that figure rises to almost 90 percent.

And newspapers' online audiences are growing: in 2012 average time spent on newspaper sites rose from 36.8 minutes to 43.4 minutes.

However, the short time period covered means you should probably exercise some caution before drawing any conclusions about long-term trends from those figures – and there’s a great deal of variation throughout the year, as you can see here:

It’s nice to see at least one graph on the newspaper business with an upward trend. But the fact remains that despite the myriad things that consumers do while online or using a connected mobile device, reading news is a tiny part of the overall picture.

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