March 31, 2016

Traditional News Publishers Take Non-Traditional Path to Digital Growth

Adam Lella
Senior Marketing Insights Analyst

Ever since the early days when traditional news organizations began publishing content on the web, the transition to digital hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Digital publishing presents a unique set of challenges to which traditional publishers weren’t accustomed, such as greater competition due to the lower barriers of entry, an unproven business model due to consumers’ expectations of free content, and a lack of institutional knowledge needed to compete in a completely different business.

While traditional news publishers have been successfully competing online for quite some time now, 2015 was a year that many made huge strides in growing their audiences, and often outperformed their digital-first news competitors. In the 2016 U.S. Cross-Platform Future in Focus report, comScore highlighted data showing several traditional print publishers who grew their digital audiences more than 20% over the past year – with some well above that mark.

Why was 2015 such an impressive year of digital growth for so many established, traditional news publishers? For the most part, it was their ability to successfully navigate the shift to mobile. More specifically, they adapted their content and distribution strategies to take advantage of the way articles get consumed and shared via social media on people’s mobile devices.

In the past it was sufficient for these traditional publishers to rely on their brands and reputations that had been cultivated over decades in order to attract readership. In digital, readers come in not only through the front door but through the side door. So while brand is still vital to their success, many digital-first media companies had succeeded by realizing the importance of content and distribution strategies to get readers in through the side door. Some traditional publishers learned these tricks faster than others, but it was clear that 2015 was the year when they collectively figured it out.

The Washington Post, which grew 78% to reach 76 million visitors by the end of 2015, is the perfect embodiment of this mindset shift. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, bought the paper in late 2013 and brought with him the digital expertise that helped make Amazon become the most successful online retailer ever. Their strategy, in large part, consisted of improving web page load times – crucial on mobile, publishing more short-form bite-sized content pieces and increasing their social and analytics resources to capture new, often younger audiences on digital. These changes, coupled with their strong brand, are a big reason why they had such impressive audience gains this year. Many other traditional news publishers also have the benefit of a strong brand, so once they make the technical and strategic changes necessary for digital, the results can be substantial immediately.

For more digital insights from 2015, as well as other key trends in TV and cross-platform, download our 2016 U.S. Cross-Platform Future in Focus report today.

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