Everybody is talking about mobile notifications, but how big is the opportunity for publishers?
We talked to Nic Newman, author of a new Reuters Institute report on mobile news alerts, who argues that this platform could soon be as important as Facebook’s Instant articles, AMP and Apple News. He expends here on what to expect from them in the next few months.
“Publishers are beginning to understand the power of mobile alerts to bring people back to their content, to drive loyalty and ultimately revenue. 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.
During the recent US elections we saw a range of publishers experimenting with new functionality to push rich content closer to the lock screen. NBC News, for example, allowed users to expand an alert to get a full view of the US election battleground without having to wait for the app itself to open (see below).
Meanwhile, 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. Meanwhile, the introduction of notifications within Apple News has been a game changer according to CNN, which reported that daily notifications grew from 188,000 users at launch to 3.7 million just a few weeks later.
But it is not just Apple News or owned apps, now there are variety of ways of reaching smartphone users with alerts. Facebook opened its Messenger API to publishers like the Wall Street Journal and ABC News who have created alerts that are delivered to the lockscreen but also within Facebook itself. The numbers here are smaller so far, but the possibilities of establishing direct connections with smartphone users are potentially just as great.
But is this activity another passing fad, or is it here to stay?
In our latest Reuters Institute Digital News project report, we wanted to explore consumer attitudes to alerts and uncover longer-term possibilities. Our conclusion, based on online polls and interviews in four countries, is that:
- There is significant room for growth
- There is an opportunity to offer much more relevant content, beyond breaking news. However, we also caution that there is a risk that publishers will kill the opportunity by sending too many/irrelevant alerts.
Here are some of the key data points
- Almost two-fifths of smartphone users in Taiwan (39%) receive news alerts and a third of Americans (33%), but only around a quarter in the UK (27%) and Germany (24%).
- The majority of those receiving news alerts are happy with the number of alerts they receive (80% in the UK, 75% in the US). Taiwanese smartphone users are most likely to complain they get too many alerts (22%), compared with just one in ten (10%) of those in the UK.
- Around a quarter of smartphone users (23%) say they have uninstalled an app because of the number of alerts, though many of these are not news apps.
- Breaking news (66%) is by far the most important type of news alert that is accessed but valued by users. This is partly because this makes up a significant proportion of alerts sent but also because people are generally prepared to wait to catch up unless time-sensitive news.
- 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 many͛ alerts (so they don’t miss stories) in the knowledge that they can easily ignore them or swipe them away.
- In terms of prospects for growth, around four in ten (38%) of those not getting news alerts say they have ͚no interest͛ in taking them in the future. About a third (31%)might use them if more personally relevant alerts could be sent, while an even bigger group (36%) might use them if they could control the number and timing of alerts
What could make non-users sign up for news alerts?
Overall, these data show the surprising extent to which news alerts are already used and valued by existing users. Notifications are already increasing the regularity with which people come back to their favourite news brand in the face of rising competition from social networks and other aggregators. But amongst other groups, this research suggests there is considerable growth potential for publishers but only for those that focus hard on this opportunity and put user needs at the centre of their decisions.
For more detail, join Nic for a webinar at on Thursday 1 December 2016 at 15.00 GMT. In association with GEN, you can sign up here or you can download the full report here. The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017 (with a full range of critical data on the news industry) will be presented at the GEN summit next 2017
About Nic Newman
Nic Newman is a journalist and digital strategist who played a key role in shaping the BBC’s internet services over more than a decade. He was a founding member of the BBC News Website, leading international coverage as World Editor (1997–2001). As Head of Product Development for BBC News he helped introduce innovations such as blogs, podcasting and on-demand video. Most recently he led digital teams, developing websites, mobile and interactive TV applications for News, Sport, Weather and Local.
He has played an important part in the development of social media strategies and guidelines for the wider BBC. Nic is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and a consultant on digital media. He is married with three children and lives in London.
Andrew Phelps—Product Director, The New York Times
“For a long time, push notifications were really a broadcast experience. You hit the publish button, and it lights up on millions of phones. But people expect more granular control now. The Times is trying to become a truly global news organization, in the way that we became a truly national one. Push notifications are a natural extension to how we reach new audiences.” (14 November 2016, Digiday)
“Stuart Rowson — BBC
What we’ve found is that a good alert is as powerful as a Facebook post.” (14 November 2016, Marketwired)
Nadav Shoval, CEO, Spot.IM,
“As mobile has become an integral part of everyone’s lives and people have become connected 24/7 wherever they are, mobile is the future of social engagement. Products such as personalized push notifications will enable users to become even more engaged online.” (3 August 2016, VentureBeat)