Digital readership spikes during Olympics

British newspapers experienced a sporting spike in digital traffic during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

To take an example, the Guardian saw a 23% increase in average daily unique browsers, a 21% rise in average daily visits, and a 15% jump in average daily page views during the Olympics, as compared with figures from 17 days before the Opening Ceremonies. Not including mobile traffic, the site attracted a total of 39.9 million page views – 2.3 million per day, on average – between July 27 and August 12 for Olympic content alone.

These numbers tell a heartening story: the readers are out there.

As print circulation continues its long luge ride – the Guardian’s dropped by another 15.85% between July 2011 and July 2012 to 209,354, a rate of decline outpaced only by the Independent, which dropped by 54.28% to reach below 83,619 – such news is particularly welcome.

“It really felt like we were able to harness all the developments we have been making in our digital coverage – in areas such as multimedia, crowdsourcing, the use of data with the journalism – to report one big, complicated, intense event,” said Paul Johnson, the Guardian’s Deputy Editor and Head of News, Business and Sport, according to a column by the newspaper’s Readers’ Editor Chris Elliot.

Besides seeing traffic spike relative to their own figures, UK newspaper websites managed to trump Facebook, Twitter and Youtube as the go-to venues for Games coverage. Twenty-nine percent of UK adult web-users considered newspaper websites their first point of call for Olympic news, versus 25% for Facebook, 15% for Twitter and 12% for YouTube, according to a one-off study of UK adults commissioned by newspaper marketing body Newsworks and carried out by YouGov over the first post-Olympic weekend.

“More readers turn to newsbrands at times of big national events – not just for the news itself, but to read trusted sources of analysis and opinion, and enjoy the wonderful images that come to define these occasions,” said Rufus Olins, Chief Executive of Newsworks, according to a report by Media Week. “Newsbrands engage the nation. This was very powerfully demonstrated during the Olympics – and the successful expansion into multiple platforms is providing newspaper brands with the opportunity to develop new, younger audiences.”

Indeed, 51% of UK readers accessed content surrounding the Olympics using computers, mobiles or tablets, and 66% of 18-24 year-olds even picked up print newspapers during the Games.

Of course, the knowledge that an immense global audience is “out there” and willing to gravitate toward trusted newsbrands’ print, digital and mobile products during an event of international interest does not finance newsrooms or put paychecks in pockets. However, the Olympic uptick is cause for cautious optimism that the UK’s steadily soaring web traffic will continue to fuel badly-needed rises in digital and mobile advertising revenue.

The UK is home to the world’s leading newspaper site, Mail Online, which attracts 6.5 million daily visitors. It is also home to the third leading site, the Guardian, which attracts 3.1 million daily visitors. Both are showing progress in attracting digital advertising revenue: Mail Online generated £16 million last year, and has grown by 69% thus far this year, which would suggest a total of £27 million. It predicts growth of 40% and £40 million in revenue for the following year. The Guardian, meanwhile, earned £14.7 million last year, which shows a 26% rise over the previous year – a growth rate that has reportedly continued into the current financial year.

As SFN Blog reported last month, the UK is recognized as a world leader in digital ad spend as a percent of total media, and this is another upward trend that looks set to continue: media buying network Group M predicts that digital ad spend will increase by 11% between this year and next, reaching £6 billion in 2013, and that mobile advertising will experience an even sharper rise.

Granted, the “digital dimes” are not yet filling newspaper’s coffers with enough silver pounds to stay at a peak level of fitness, and a mood of pessimism continues to prevail in many corners of the British press. But it must not be overlooked that the host country’s newspapers pulled off a multi-platform Olympic success this August which, viewed alongside height gained in the longer, slower climb of digital advertising revenue, sends a positive message about the British newspaper industry’s digital prospects.

“The innovation is there and the determination is there,” said Bob Satchwell, Executive Director of the Society of Editors. “Where there’s a danger is in trying to contain losses, particularly in the regional press,” he continued, explaining that British news organizations must not lose sight of the fact that the business is about news. “News is very expensive to gather,” he said, but it is news that “builds the audience, which attracts the advertising.”

“Content remains king,” he explained. Whether delivered on paper, laptop, tablet, or on a brand new platform that “we haven’t even thought of yet,” quality content builds audiences, and audiences attract advertising. “The eyeballs will follow the best quality, and the advertising will follow the eyeballs.”

Source: SFN Blog: British newspapers’ Olympic traffic spike sends quietly optimistic message on digital prospects.

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