The Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford released its annual Digital News Report yesterday, and as you might expect, it focuses heavily on how coronavirus has impacted the world of media.
It’s a worthwhile read, but at 112 pages (or a bit under 100 if you take out the fillers), it can get a bit long.
So for those with a limited amount of time on their hands, here are the main takeaways in a TLDR version of the report.
Trust amid crisis
The crisis played out relatively well for media, with massive spikes in consumption but also a significant level of trust in media – similar to national governments and much higher than for individual politicians or social media platforms (trust was twice as high in media as a source of COVID-19 news).
Around two-thirds of respondents globally claimed that media had done a good job helping people understand what is happening and what they should do (surprisingly, South Korea and the US – two countries with a very different track record – were among the worst performers). Only a third thought the media had exaggerated the impact of COVID.
At the same time, concerns about misinformation are on the rise, with domestic politicians and social media platforms as the main culprits.
Interestingly, while people would prefer to have news media call out politicians for false claims (52% of people), rather than not give them visibility, most people (58%) would prefer that social media platforms get rid of political advertising altogether, even if that gives them additional influence over what appears in their feed.
The “coronavirus bump” in digital subscriptions is real, but unevenly spread. In countries with high payment levels (e.g., Norway or the US; which also presumably have better data on the topic), between a third and half of all subscriptions went to a handful of top players.
But there is a bit of positive news as a growing minority of subscribers is now taking out more than one subscription – with a local or specialized publication coming on top of the major player.
While the bump has been real – in the US the share of the population paying for news jumped four percentage points to 20%, in Norway it rose by 8 ppts to 42% – nowhere does a majority of the audience pay for news, making it difficult to fully balance out the massive plunge in ad revenues.
Shifts in social media
Facebook has cemented its position as both the main news source among social media platforms (over a third of respondents across 12 main markets saw it as a source of news), but also as the main source of disinformation.
As a result, private networks like Whatsapp have been on rise and are seen as more credible (Whatsapp stood at 16%, a major increase from the 7% it held in 2014). More than half of those surveyed (51%) used a closed or online group to share information.
In a worrying sign for media outlets, celebrities and influencers play a key role as content distributors. This is particularly true for COVID-19 and climate change – widely seen as the single most important issue – where several respondents claimed to simply follow personalities like Greta Thunberg or Leonardo di Caprio as the source of their news.
Instagram is also making waves as a source of news. It doubled its reach as a source of news across all age groups (reaching 11% across 12 countries) and is set to beat Twitter (currently at 12% in the same measure) next year if the current trend continues.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be a boon for TV, which saw a sizable 5 percentage point jump in the share of users across 6 markets with detailed figures available. This has allowed the traditional platform to delay the declining trend seen in previous years.
Video in general has been strong – it is the single most important source of news in all but a handful of markets (in the UK, Australia and France, among others, younger audiences in particular said they prefer to read the news).
On average, two-thirds of respondents consumer video news, albeit with wide discrepancies. In global south markets like Turkey, Kenya or Brazil video topped 80%, while more conservative European markets like Germany, the UK or France all saw the share of video consumers below the 50% bar.
That said – even in Europe publishers are stepping up their game and launching video content directly on their sites while the share of people who watch social platforms directly is still relatively low.