Newsonomics: Revenge of the Legacies, as Times, Post Pass Buzzfeed, HuffPost in Audience
For the first time in many years, both The New York Times and The Washington Post have passed both Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post in Comscore’s count of monthly digital audience.
In July, both legacy news companies’ fast growth propelled them into new positions. The Times now moves into the No. 8 position in Comscore’s top 10, with the Post right behind it at No. 9.
First published at Politico Media
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The Post had put the Times first in its crosshairs, as it built its omnipresent distribution strategy in a new (Jeff) Bezosian era (“Is the Washington Post closing in on the New York Times?”). The only major news company to be all-in on Facebook’s Instant Articles, the Post’s available-everywhere strategy, combined with an increase in editorial firepower, informs much of its growth.
By October, 2015, it could first claim to pass the Times. That lead lasted for three months, and the paper took the opportunity to gloat (“Is the Washington Post really the newspaper of record?”). Then, the Times passed the Post again in January, and could claim bragging rights between the two, for the first half of 2016, as we can see the chart below.
That’s of course a point of interest. What’s most important isn’t who wins what may be a seesaw battle over the next couple of years. What’s importance is the audience appetite both are satisfying.
Most interesting, though, is the fact that each legacy news organization has surpassed two of the hottest digital start-ups of the last decade.ABC New
While the Times and Post have greatly added audience – up 41 percent and 54 percent year over year, respectively – Buzzfeed and Huffington Post have lost overall audience. Both Buzzfeed and Huffington Post are down about 12 percent year over year. (For this comparative purpose, we use Huffington Post Global, which includes all HuffPost, but not AOL News, which for other metrics, Comscore includes in a count.)
In addition, CNN’s digital properties show similar enduring legacy strength. CNN is up 23 percent, to maintain its second-place ranking, while CBS.com is up 17 percent and the USA Today network is up 11 percent.
Here is one good chart describing the change of five of these major players in three years’ time.
What does this reversal of fortune mean?
We may draw a conclusion that in this once-in-a-lifetime election year it is the sturdiest news institutions to which Americans increasingly turn.
Further, these audience winners have gotten a lot smarter about how to drive audience, experimenting with numerous third-party platforms and improving their own products. These three companies – CNN, the Times and the Post – still struggle to find prosperity and stability in the digital age, but on a curve, they can, for now, congratulate themselves.
Then, there’s the question of what is happening at Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. Today marks the first day that Huffington Post goes Arianna-less. Has Huffington Post, which shed 12 million unique visitors in just a year’s time – and a time of incredible political ferment – peaked?
After all, it was born at another digital time, 2005, and as the Post’s Erik Wemple pointed out this week has had its share of journalistic hiccups. A business/editorial model of aggregation ahead of its time, the Huffington Post now must look of how to redefine its very identity.
Buzzfeed, of course, has confused many with its recent bolt-out-of-the-blue announcement that it would split into news and entertainment parts. That move has still not been well explained in intent or impact on its journalism. What the data does show is that Buzzfeed, too, lost 10 million unique visitors over the last year.
As Shane Smith warns apocalyptically of a media “bloodbath” next year, and the high-flying dreams of a half-dozen of his brethren have been tempered over 2016, we’re left wonder what this next re-balancing of old and new media will look like. At this point, it’s neither worth believing the doomsayers nor those still focusing through their rose-colored lenses. Yet, approaching 2017, the news media terra is far from firma.
Finally, there’s a good question of what may happen with these rankings next year.
Still seated in the No. 1 perch in digital audience is the Yahoo/ABC News Network. Though now just 1.5 million unique visitors ahead of No. 2 CNN, the big question ahead is what happens with that Yahoo/ABC partnership.
The parties threw their traffic together in 2011 and renewed the deal in 2014. Yet, it’s been a rocky road. With each twist and turn of Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo strategy, the value of the partnership muddied. Promised promotion sometimes fell by the wayside, and top-level executive relationships strained.
As is the case with so many media partnerships, execution on both sides never matched the lofty aspirations envisioned on paper. Now as Verizon closes on it Yahoo purchase [“With Yahoo win, Verizon sidles up to Google, Facebook“], the parties will face a fork in their digital carpool.
The agreement, I’ve learned, contains a potential ABC out given Yahoo’s “change of control.” While the agreement – especially driven by its Good Morning America co-presentation on Yahoo – has aided ABC, it might use this opportunity to re-negotiate the deal.
Yahoo’s negotiators are likely to be different ones, given the many changes the Verizon/AOL takeover of Yahoo will mean. It’s unlikely that NBC News – given its recent change in leadership with both Andy Lack and Nick Ascheim taking top positions – would make a fresh run at a Yahoo/NBC relationship, though their predecessors did in 2014, without success.
By itself, as we can see below, ABC generates about half of the combined traffic of the Yahoo-ABC News roll-up. By itself ABC News grew 8 percent year over year; together, they grew 7 percent.
Given much duplication between ABC News and Yahoo, it’s tough to disentangle the two’s audience data. At 68 million unique visitors, though, ABC News would rank about 12th, between Mail Online and the Fox Digital Network.
We don’t yet know how the AOL/Yahoo/Huffington Post traffic may be accounted, so we can see lots of moving pieces here, as we move into 2017.
These overall digital audience numbers tell only the top of a story of digital audience movement.
Engagement of audiences – as measured by return visits by those knowledgeable about the news brand – matter much more than they did a few years.
In addition, third-platform (Facebook, Snapchat) reading further complicates the counting of mass audience; over-the-top news viewing now begins to generate enough traffic to make its own case for inclusion.
In the meantime, though, the digital news start-ups, which once seemed eager to challenge the old guys for supremacy, have been a bit chastened.