Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Mobile vs. App Is the Wrong Question: Question Is Whether to Be a Mobile-First Media Company or Treat Mobile as an Also-Ran

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Mobile vs. App Is the Wrong Question: Question Is Whether to Be a Mobile-First Media Company or Treat Mobile as an Also-Ran

Article excerpt

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In January, CNN announced staggering growth in the number of users accessing its content on mobile devices. For 2013, the company averaged 30 million monthly unique visitors on mobile, an increase of 40 percent over 2012.

CNN is hardly exclusive when it comes to a growth in mobile traffic. NPR says nearly half of all its traffic comes from mobile, and similar numbers are seen at Huffington Post, the New York Times and most major metro newspapers across the country.

This growth can be attributed to an overwhelming increase in the time users spend on mobile content, created by two big shifts: Cell networks getting faster and smartphone screens getting larger. Apple just announced a new iPhone intended to compete with Samsung Galaxy's huge screen, and with consumers averaging 1.2 gigabytes a month over cellular networks this year (nearly double what it was in 2012), media companies are bound to benefit from a spike in traffic. To top it off, traffic from mobile devices is predicted to exceed all wired devices (think desktops) by 2016.

But an interesting thing has occurred on the way to the mobile bank. According to Flurry Analytics, "news & magazines" were the worst performing segment of the app marketplace, growing only 31 percent in 2013. By comparison, app usage overall was up 115 percent, mostly due to messaging, social media and productivity apps.

This dichotomy in the growth of mobile traffic seems to leave media companies at a crossroads. Ever since the launch of the iPhone back in 2007, media companies, like everyone else, have developed apps downloadable to access their content. With the staggering growth of mobile traffic, is it time for companies to give up their apps and devote their resources to creating a better mobile experience?

Not so fast, says Demian Perry, the director of mobile for NPR.

Perry says while the growth of mobile web traffic is dwarfing the growth of traffic from apps (at NPR, mobile counts for 4 times the amount of traffic of all its mobile apps combined), the apps offer NPR something that mobile hasn't been successful at--loyalty.

"Often people look at one metric like unique visitors or visits, and they make assumptions about the value," said Perry. "For us, we're interested in engagement, and we get much deeper engagement on our mobile apps."

NPR is actually doubling-down on its investment in apps, and according to Perry, NPR is easily doubling the people they have working on apps this year over last year. It might be due to NPR's particular emphasis on getting people to listen to their radio broadcasts, something mobile users seem to avoid, but app users can't get enough of.

"Even though they're a smaller percentage of overall traffic, app users listen to much more audio," said Perry. "Mobile users might visit a couple of pages and stay on the site for five minutes, but our app audience seems more willing to listen to a stream for an hour."

CNN also doesn't seem ready to give up on mobile apps. With 12 million downloads of their apps in 2013, CNN might have a reason to seem so supportive, especially if the users are more engaged and consuming more content than they would if they visited though mobile. It's probably the reason why a visit to CNN's mobile site releases a pop-up encouraging users to download their app.

NBCNews.com seems to have placed itself into a similar situation as its media competitors. While the much-touted redesign of NBCNews. com seemed to have grabbed all the headlines, a complete revamp of its free news app seems to have flown under the radar. …

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