How the mobile lockscreen could be the next big opportunity for publishers

Mobile alerts are fast emerging as a key discovery mechanism to rival search and social, providing a significant opportunity for publishers to build loyalty and habit. The growing importance of smartphones combined with richer notification options from both Apple and Android devices mean the lockscreen is set to become a new battleground for the attention of mobile users.

Our latest report for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that news notifications are already received by around a third of smartphone users (37 percent in Taiwan, 33 percent in the United States, 27 percent in the UK and 24 percent in Germany) with the alerts that are received being valued by around three quarters. News is second only to personal and productivity based messaging with sports scores and travel alerts also important for some.

Popularity of different types of alert


Q2: Which, if any, of the following types of alerts and/ or notifications do you ever receive on your smartphone
Base: All smartphone users online, US 1881, Taiwan 1025, Germany 1701, UK 1797

Currently most news alerts received are around breaking news (66 percent), but our research finds significant demand for a wider and richer range of options. With young people in particular using and liking mobile alerts there is a clear opportunity for growth.


Of those not receiving mobile news alerts, more than half of respondents across the four markets covered say they would be happy to get them, provided they are personally relevant and offer ways of controlling the number and timing of notifications.

Unlike distributed forms of discovery like search and social, news notifications linked to an owned app provide a direct connection with users and new ways of serving their needs in personalised, and convenient ways. Research shows that well targeted alerts can bring people back to a particular news brand far more often, but if publishers end up sending too many alerts they risk alienating their most valuable consumers. Currently most users get a modest number of alerts (around 10 on average) but some people receive over 40 each day. Over two thirds of users (66 percent) say they are wary of having content pushed to them on this personal device and around a quarter (23 percent) say they have uninstalled an app because of excessive alerts.

I use my phone for my personal day to day life and don’t want it filled up with stuff I don’t need”

“It keeps on buzzing until you see them. It’s like bugging you all day long”

Overall, however, news users are relatively happy with the number of alerts they receive.

A number of those we talked to – particularly young people – value alerts, feel entirely comfortable in managing settings and turning notifications off when they don’t need them.

“I am confident in my ability and knowledge to have control of things”

“If I found them intrusive, I wouldn’t have them on my phone”

People click on the alert about half the time. This depends on the context and the decision is primarily driven by type of alert, the headline, and the interest this evokes. They are happy to receive ‘a few too many’ alerts (so they don’t miss stories) in the knowledge that they can easily ignore them or swipe them away.

Too many alerts, too few or just right?


Q10a: Would you say that the amount of news alerts/ notifications your currently receive on your smartphone are too few, too many, or about the right amount?

Base: Those who receive alerts and notifications for news/sports news, US 679, Taiwan 413, Germany 475, UK 508

Brands with a reputation for breaking news do best

At this stage most people prefer to get their news alerts from traditional media outlets in all the countries we studied. News brands with a track record for breaking news tend to do best – such as CNN and Fox News in the US and n-tv and Spiegel in Germany. In the UK, the BBC’s alerts reach 63% of those who receive news notifications with Sky News reaching more than a quarter (27 percent).

Top brands for news alerts in the UK and US


Q9. Which, if any, of the following apps do you receive news alerts/ notifications from?

Base: All smartphone uses who receive news/sport alerts, US = 679, UK = 508

Top brands for news alerts in Germany and Taiwan


Q9. Which, if any, of the following apps do you receive news alerts/ notifications from?

Base: All smartphone uses who receive news/sport alerts, Germany = 679, Taiwan 413

Many media companies are focusing on exploiting the new possibilities. The New York Times, the Guardian and the BBC are just some of those that have been sending more personalised alerts based on interests, frequency and time of day.

Alongside sports scores and football alerts, BBC Sport has been experimenting with exclusive content, including reminders when live coverage is about to start, post-match analysis, and video highlights content.  An early morning alert for an Olympic video round-up, for example, reached tens of thousands of users each day. “What we’ve found is that a good alert is as powerful as a Facebook post,” says Stuart Rowson, Editor of BBC Sport online.

Richer alerting on the way…

During the recent US election, publishers experimented with new functionality that allows data, video and graphics to be sent directly to the lockscreen along with a richer set of interactions.

NBC News pushed photos, maps, and infographics in its notifications. Users could expand the alert, for example, to get a full view of the US election battleground without having to wait for the app itself to open (see below). In a further development, the Guardian experimented on election night with alerts on both Android and iOS where live data updates were pushed for the first time to a real-time scorecard on the lockscreen. Over 200,000 people signed up driving around 800,000 extra clicks to the live blog and full results webpages, according to product manager Robert Phillips.


And youth-focused is also experimenting with video.

Video notifications direct to the lockscreen


However publishers face a stiff challenge from a range of aggregators including Apple News, which has recently launched its own notifications service on the iPhone. CNN suggested the new Apple functionality may be a game changer, reporting that daily notifications grew from 188,000 users at launch to 3.7 million just a few weeks later. Facebook is also getting involved having opened up its Messenger API to allow publishers like the Wall Street Journal and CNN to reach the lockscreen and generate extra views within Facebook itself. Flipboard, Smartnews and Nuzzel get much of their traffic through mobile alerts.

The development of both the content and the technology for notifications is moving at an extremely rapid pace. It is likely that the Android and Apple notification platforms will be every bit as important
for the news industry as Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP, and Snapchat Discover have already become. The role of the lockscreen as a gateway to content has been talked about for many years but only now are we seeing the ease of use and range of functionality begin to meet those expectations.

More information

This research is based on a YouGov survey of smartphone users in four countries between 26 September and 10 October 2016. Total sample size was 7,577 adults in the UK, US, Germany, and Taiwan. The survey was carried out online. The research also included a series of 14 depth interviews. These were drawn from smartphone users who are active users of news and sport alerts. The aim was to understand preferences of this segment more fully as well as to uncover insights about possible future use. More information at

By |2016-11-30T00:01:00+00:00November 30th, 2016|Analysis|Comments Off on How the mobile lockscreen could be the next big opportunity for publishers

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