Mobile calls out to newspapers

“If you don’t capture this (mobile) audience now, someone else is going to. And once they’ve downloaded that icon to their smart-phone, it’s going to be very hard to reclaim that space.”

By John Devine

Mobile phones are ubiquitous. They are in use everywhere: on the bus, in a lineup, at a restaurant, walking the dog, in the doctor’s office, and thousands of other locales. It’s easier to say where they aren’t in use than where they are.
Some are smart, and others – not so smart; in the words of Dave Coleman, marketing director for Spreed Inc., a developer of mobile apps for newspapers, some are dumb-phones – those being devices that can’t send emails, can’t access the Internet, don’t have a keyboard and can’t download applications or programs.
Because smart-phones can do all of those things, most particularly download applications, and because there are so many of them, they represent a significant opportunity for the newspaper industry to get its content, including advertising, into the hands of readers who have the ability, and desire, to access it anywhere, anytime.
“Apple alone has sold over 50 million iPhones. Add iPod touches, which can also download those applications … and you are looking at 85 million mobile devices,” says Coleman, who adds Apple owns about 16.1 per cent of the smart-phone market.
“There are many, many other smart-phones out there. You’ve got the Nokias, you’ve got the BlackBerrys, and then you’ve got the Android phones coming in there. So this is a very valuable and new channel for newspapers to start approaching.”
It’s also a race to see who’s first out of the gate, says Coleman, who advises newspapers, no matter now large or small, to get into the mobile-app game sooner rather than later.
“If you don’t capture this (mobile) audience now, someone else is going to. And once they’ve downloaded that icon to their smart-phone, it’s going to be very hard to reclaim that space.”
Smart-phones, says Coleman, are personal, in that they are with their owners all the time, most often used only by them.
“It’s not like a computer that many people are using. It’s in your pocket, and it knows who you are and where you are.”
The information that can be gleamed from users accessing content through a newspaper’s mobile app can be extremely handy to the newspaper, says Coleman, specifically in regards to targeting.
“We can start to serve up ads that are based on a user’s behavioural characteristics, instead of just showing ads to a computer that one, two, three four people in a household may be using.
“We are able to do behavioural targeting because we know what people are reading on these phones, and we can start making profiles as to what people are reading and start contextualizing ads.”
So, if data analysis shows that mobile readers are spending a lot of time on articles about golf, newspapers with mobile apps can use this information to deliver golf-related material, including advertising, to those readers. And they can offer advertisers a very specific, and targeted, audience.
“We can start delivering that person advertising within all the different (newspaper) sections, based on their unique profile.”
And by using the GPS on a phone, location of the reader can also be determined, which presents its own opportunities.
“If we know people are opening up the application in Rosedale in Toronto, or in the financial section in Toronto, we know they are probably pretty well off.”
Information can be even more detailed, including geo-based targeting, says Coleman.
“We have an interface where you can go on a Google map and draw a circle, or draw a line all the way down Yonge Street, and only show ads when people are in those specific areas. So it becomes very targeted based on the user’s actual behaviour.”
Coleman describes his company as a one-stop service provider for newspaper mobile apps, delivering what he calls a 360-solution: the application, the analytics and an ad-serving platform in one package. Canadian clients include The Globe and Mail.
He says every piece of content that goes through a newspaper’s website gets pulled into the company’s servers, and then pushed out to the mobile application. The content is indexed and studied, providing the ability to understanding reading behaviour.
Going back to the golf example, Coleman says a newspaper could approach a golf retailer with specific reader information, offering a targeted audience.
“We don’t know who the person is, but we know the unique device identifier – the actual device that they are using. We can serve those people up golf ads.”
It’s an exciting time for content delivery, says Coleman, who cautions newspapers considering getting into the mobile-app market approach it with two separate, but connected, tactics: the app itself and a website optimized for viewing from a mobile device.
“Both serve unique purposes, and I don’t think they should be done individually, without the other, as they both have their own reasons and goals around them.”
The actual app downloaded onto a smart-phone is a piece of software that creates an icon on the phone’s screen. The application market is massive, and growing.
“In the iTune apps store alone, we’ve seen four billion apps downloaded. That level is unprecedented in regards to some of the other app stores, but we are seeing a very large influx in terms of the applications that are being downloaded.”
Not having a website optimized for mobile viewing would minimize the effectiveness of having a mobile app, says Coleman.
“If you got an email with a link in it, and you clicked on it and it went to a site that wasn’t optimized for your mobile phone, you probably wouldn’t read it – it would be very hard for you to zoom, pinch, and navigate through that article. Also, the advertising wouldn’t be optimized for that smart-phone.
“So, it’s very important to have mobile-optimized websites, so that users, when coming to your site, when clicking on links, see an optimized (site) for viewing articles and advertising.”
A physical app on a phone also serves to deliver more traffic, more eyeballs, that all-important factor in driving revenue.
“We are finding that people come to mobile newspaper sites maybe once a week, or once every two weeks. But, if you put a physical application icon on someone’s mobile phone, they are always coming back to it, because they always know there is going to be fresh content there.
“We call it the new newspaper subscription. People are coming back through these applications five to eight times a day, and they are reading upwards of 10 articles at a time. These statistics are just going through the roof.”
The type of content available for viewing on a mobile is as important as having a physical icon; Coleman says mobile readers are looking for information that’s convenient, such as the latest scores and not necessarily detailed information such as player stats.
Having content that readers know will be fresh mirrors the BlackBerry email syndrome, where users are constantly checking their devices for new information.
“You’re waiting in line to get your food, or you’re waiting for the bus, you open up your BlackBerry to see whether you have email, and the next thing is to check whether there is any new news from your news portal.”
Apps for the publishing industry are growing. In the iTunes store alone, says Coleman, 46 newspapers, 32 consumer magazines, and about 20 different business publications all have apps. The stats are about four months old, he says, so the numbers are likely larger.
And, he continues, 56 per cent of senior executives from the publishing industry said their companies are planning to develop an app within the next 24 months, in addition to the 17 per cent that have already developed apps.
Developing a mobile strategy is a priority for many in the industry, but it’s not without its challenges, newspaper executives say.
Paul Hecht, vice president, Digital, at Glacier Media Inc., says his company is focusing on delivering timely, quality content across all platforms, including mobile. He says hurdles include the range of ever-changing devices and browsers, and supporting multiple platforms.
However, a mobile presence would serve an area of particular importance to Glacier.
“A lot of our specialty publications have highly mobile audiences who are seeking timely information. By delivering this information to them in a timely manner, we will retain our base and attract new readers and advertisers.”
Tomer Strolight, president of Torstar Digital, calls mobile devices a high growth area, but, like Hecht, he sees a number of questions to answer, challenges to overcome.
“Right now there are a lot of questions surrounding mobile media, and we’re actively involved in discovery and experimentation in order to get intelligent answers to those questions, including content, advertising and different platforms.”
He says mobile provides unique features, producing new concepts Torstar is trying to build business models around.
“There’s no doubt that mobile is important, but it’s also very complicated.”
Is it better to develop or license an app? Although less costly than before, Coleman says developing still represents a significant investment, in time and money.
“It has become a lot more commoditized in the past six months or so. That being said, it is very expensive to develop it and maintain. The operating system is constantly being changed and updated; there are new capabilities, and new smart-phones. Remember, every smart-phone has its own development language.
“It’s not like you’re creating a web team that can build once and that’s it. You’re talking a team of 10-20 that you are going to have to build out to maintain these applications.”
Once a decision to move into the mobile market is made, the upside is significant, says Coleman.
“News applications have the highest usage and retention rates than any other application in the app store. This is a gigantic opportunity for newspapers to really embrace their digital customers once again, and bring them back into the fold and get that community back.”
News, reference and weather are the top three in terms of retention, frequency of use, he says, and news apps are used 11 times a week, with a 74 per cent retention rate after one month.
Newspapers moving into the mobile marker are advised to carefully consider the types of content they want available through an app. With a strategy of providing information that’s convenient, newspapers might want to consider different apps for different information – like sports, traffic and weather, etc.
“The goal of a smart-phone strategy is to think about why is person is using that mobile phone, right then and there. It’s to get information just in time, very quickly. You need to think about the types of information that users are going to want and get to very quickly. You never want to go two to three clicks deep on any information.”
If readers use an app that’s too heavy in terms of functionality, they can end up lost in the application.
“On top of that, it makes it very hard to position advertising so that it really pops off the page … which is very important for newspapers.”
When talking about content for tablets such as the iPad, a different strategy is in order, says Coleman.
“You have the iPad and tablets where users are leaning back in their couch with their iPads, and they are spending a lot of time with them. In this case you can start getting really deep into your applications and adding a lot more functionality.
“On a sports application on an iPad, you’re going to want to give people access to all that archived video, all the statistics around players and players. And then go even deeper and show the player’s Twitter feed, and let them interact with the player.”
It sounds as if determining the right content for mobile platforms may well be one of the biggest challenges to overcome in creating a mobile strategy.

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