Legacy Media Still Rules The News? Opinions Differ On McKinsey & Company Engagement Research

on May 14 2013 7:27 AM

New research that purports to measure user engagement among news consumers would seem to mark a decisive victory for old media, but not everyone is impressed by the results.

According to data compiled by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company -- and reported on by Poynter’s Rick Edmonds on Monday -- legacy media platforms still take up the vast majority of our news-consumption time. Smartphones, tablets and computers, meanwhile, account for a very small percentage, at least when "time spent" consuming news is taken into account.

As Edmonds reported, 35 percent of time spent consuming news in the United States takes place via newspapers and magazines, 16 percent via radio and other audio outlets and 41 percent via television. Computers and laptops accounted for 4 percent of time spent consuming news, while mobile devices made up a paltry 2 percent.

Not surprisingly, the numbers appear vastly different when looking at total media consumption, about 50 percent of which now takes place on digital devices. But the notion that computers and mobile gadgets make up only a miniscule fraction of our news-consumption time may seem counterintuitive to anyone who has spent time on a subway in the last few years.  

Citing McKinsey & Company researcher Kevin Roche, Edmonds said the firm compiled the data through various sources, including observational consumer research and consulting engagement with its own clients. Ultimately, the findings may reveal less about how often we utilize various media technologies and more about the way we use them. Newspapers, for instance, are used only for news, while smartphones come with endless functions to compete for our attention spans. Even Edmonds admitted there was no need to “oversell” McKinsey & Company’s findings. But he added that the data may highlight the media industry’s tendency to rely too heavily on “flawed metrics,” such as monthly visitors and page views, which may not reflect true engagement.

“Giving more emphasis to research that illuminates time and attention to various news platforms would strengthen the case for the print half of print + digital -- and for the relevance of TV and radio news consumption as well.”

That conclusion has attracted a bit of criticism, however. In a rather defensive post on website PaidContent, technology writer Mathew Ingram insisted that any focus on “time spent” consuming news misses an important point: Print media is in decline, and it isn’t coming back. “Media companies need to adapt to that fact, rather than trying to pretend it isn’t happening,” Ingram wrote.

Ingram also pointed out the notable fact that advertisers are more concerned with where industry trends are heading, not where they are now. Indeed, one Pew Research study found that 53 percent of tablet users turn to their devices for news, and that was the archaic era of late 2011, a mere 18 months after the release of the first iPad.

And yet if the chasm between what is and what will be is an vital distinction for advertisers, it’s one that is often not necessarily reflected in the deluge of research that aims to measure the effectiveness of advertising, be it digital or print. Consider Adobe’s “State of Online Advertising” 2012 report, which found that print magazines still offer the most effective advertising, while 68 percent of consumers find digital ads “annoying.” Future or no, that’s a steep hurdle to overcome.

Got a news tip? Send me an email. Follow me on Twitter: @christopherzara

More News from IBT MEDIA