What’s Up with Apps These Days?

Results from comScore’s latest annual U.S. Mobile App Report point to some interesting user behaviors.

No one needs to be reminded of how important mobile apps have become in today’s world of communications. Just looking around any crowd of people, it’s clear that usage has become well-nigh ubiquitous.

And now, we have some new stats that help quantify what’s happening, courtesy of the most recent annual Mobile App Report published by global media measurement and analytics firm comScore.

Among the salient findings from this report:

  • Today, mobile devices represent two of every three minutes spent on digital media.
  • Smartphone apps alone account for nearly half of all digital media time spent – and three of every four minutes spent while on mobile.
  • Over the past three years, total time spent on digital media has grown by over 50%. Most all of that growth has been because of mobile apps.
  • Indeed, time spent on desktop media has actually dropped by more than 10%.

Despite the rapid rise of mobile app usage, there are a few findings in the comScore report that point toward some consolidation of the market, with certain apps being the recipient of strong brand loyalties.

Typically, while smartphone users have uploaded many apps on their devices – and may use several dozens of them on a monthly basis – nine out of every ten mobile app minutes are spent with just five top apps.

[Good luck to any app provider attempting to break into that rarefied group of top performers!]

At the same time, “push notification fatigue” appears to be a growing issue: More smartphone users are rejecting app update notifications than ever before.  According to comScore’s recent report, nearly 40% of users rarely or never agree to such update notifications – up significantly from around 30% last year.

Conversely, only about 25% often or always agree to updates, which is down from about one-third of users in last year’s survey.

This last set of figures doesn’t surprise me in the least. With so many apps housed on so many devices, one could easily spend an hour each day accessing nothing but app updates.

Especially considering how little additional functionality these ongoing updates actually deliver, the whole operation falls into the “life’s too short” category.

Journalism’s Slow Fade

jjLate last month, the 2016 Lecture Series at the Panetta Institute for Public Policy in Carmel, CA hosted a panel discussion focusing on the topic “Changing Society, Technology and Media.”

The panelists included Ted Koppel, former anchor of ABC News’ Nightline, Howard Kurtz, host of FAX News’ Media Buzz, and Judy Woodruff, co-anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour show.

During the discussion, Ted Koppel expressed his dismay over the decline of journalism as a professional discipline, noting that the rise of social media and blogging have created an environment where news and information are no longer “vetted” by professional news-gatherers.

One can agree or disagree with Koppel about whether the “democratization” of media represents regression rather than progress, but one thing that cannot be denied is that the rise of “mobile media” has sparked a decline in the overall number of professional media jobs.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics can quantify the trend pretty convincingly. As summarized in a report published in the American Consumers Newsletter, until the introduction of smartphones in 2007, the effect of the Internet on jobs in traditional media, newspapers, magazines and book had been, on balance, rather slight.

To wit, between 1993 and 2007, U.S. employment changes in the following segments looked like this:

  • Book Industry: Net increase of ~700 jobs
  • Magazines: Net decline of ~300 jobs
  • Newspapers: Net decline of ~79,000 jobs

True, the newspaper industry had been hard hit, but other segments not nearly so much, and indeed there had been net increases charted also in radio, film and TV.

But with the advent of the smartphone, Internet and media access underwent a transformation into something personal and portable. Look how that has impacted on jobs in the same media categories when comparing 2007 to 2016 employment:

  • Book Industry: Net loss of ~20,700 jobs
  • Magazines: Net loss of ~48,400 jobs
  • Newspapers: Net loss of ~168,200 jobs

Of course, new types of media jobs have sprung up during this period, particularly in Internet publishing and broadcasting. But those haven’t begun to make up for the losses noted in the segments above.

According to BLS statistics, Internet media employment grew by ~125,300 between 2007 and 2016 — but that’s less than half the losses charted elsewhere.

All told, factoring in the impact of TV, radio and film, there has been a net loss of nearly 160,000 U.S. media jobs since 2007.


You’d be hard-pressed to find any other industry in the United States that has sustained such steep net losses over the past decade or so.

Much to the chagrin of old-school journalists, newspaper readership has plummeted in recent years — and with it newspaper advertising revenues (both classified and display).

The change in behavior is across the board, but it’s particularly age-based. These usage figures tell it all:

  • In 2007, ~33% of Americans age 18 to 34 read a daily newspaper … today it’s just 16%.
  • Even among Americans age 45 to 64, more than 50% read a daily newspaper in 2007 … today’s it’s around one third.
  • And among seniors age 65 and up, whereas two-thirds read a daily paper in 2007, today it’s just 50%.

With trends like that, the bigger question is how traditional media have been able to hang in there as long as they have. Because if it were simply dollars and cents being considered, the job losses would have been even steeper.

Perhaps we should take people like Jeff Bezos — who purchased the Washington Post newspaper not so long ago — at their word:  Maybe they do wish to see traditional journalism maintain its relevance even as the world around it is changing rapidly.

The Gawker saga: Are there any good guys in this drama?

gmSome people I’ve spoken to about blog collective Gawker Media’s recent legal and corporate tribulations have expressed concerns about the chilling effect well-funded lawsuits may be having on a free and unfettered press.  But it’s hard to find any angels in the ongoing saga of Gawker Media and its many detractors.

The latest news is that Gawker is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection even as it entertains an acquisition bid from publishing firm Ziff Davis.

Reportedly, Ziff Davis is offering $90 million to purchase Gawker Media.  This compares to the $140 million judgment against Gawker handed down by the courts in March in the Hulk Hogan defamation lawsuit.

hhLooking at the sordid details, it’s hard to find sympathy for any of the major players.  In the choice words of journalist and writer Bob Garfield:

“[Gawker Media is a] snide, predatory gossip site that built a reputation cutting hypocritical big shots down to size, but soon ran out of big shots and turned its sneering animus on any anonymous medium-shot unfortunate enough to fall into its sights … Gawker.com is in the schadenfreude business.”

Professional wrestler and television personality Hulk Hogan (aka Terry Gene Bollea) isn’t a paradigm of virtue, either – what with his history of obnoxious statements and what we’ll call euphemistically “other activities” that fall pretty low on the class-meter.

ptTech industry billionaire Peter Thiel, who provided the financial backing for Hulk Hogan’s successful lawsuit, was once a victim of Gawker himself – being “outed” as gay by the media site.  But Thiel’s über-libertarian pronouncements appear churlish on the one hand, while his legal takedown of Gawker seems to be at cross-purposes with the “anything goes” free speech premises of libertarianism.

Nick Denton, Gawker founder and CEO, has remained defiant even in the wake of the latest turn of events:  “Even with his billions, Thiel will not silence our writers.  Our sites will thrive – under new ownership,” Denton has been quoted, adding that court appeals will continue.

Clearly, this drama isn’t ending anytime soon. But with no sympathetic characters in this drama — and that’s about the most positive thing one can say about it — who’s ready to take a shower right about now?

Momentous milestone? U.S. advertising dips below 1% of GDP for the first time in living memory.

sdThe advertising industry has often been characterized as “boring.”  This 2014 analytical article from Bloomberg encapsulates the argument pretty succinctly.

Still, the “lay of the land” in the late 2000s and early 2010s represents a bit of a changeup from the previous decades of predictability.

During the period beginning the late 2000s when the “advertising recession” hit in an even bigger way than the overall U.S. economic recession, I’ve heard various industry insiders posit that there was more than merely a retrenchment happening due to overall economic conditions.

Beyond that, it was suggested that a migration was happening away from traditional advertising methods to more measurable ones.

Now we have more than just hunches to go on — and the results appear to be aligning with those suspicions.

The new evidence comes in the form of statistics released this week and reported on by MediaPost.

According to an analysis of ad spending trends published by Sanford Bernstein Research and Magna Global, for the first time in modern history U.S. advertising industry revenues have dropped below 1% of total U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

During the period 1999 to 2010, total advertising averaged 1.25% of GDP, but since then the percentage has stagnated or fallen. The 2014 total advertising estimate of $165 billion is 0.95% of GDP.  (The Bernstein/Magna research covers U.S. advertising revenues up through the year 2014.)

tbThe decline in advertising’s share of GDP is primarily due to the diminishing importance of two key traditional media categories: broadcast TV and cable TV.

Broadcast TV advertising’s annual revenue growth averaged around 3% per year between 1990 and 2010.  Since 2011, it’s been flat.

Cable TV has done somewhat better – but even there what had been around 12% growth per year has slowed to just a ~3% annual increase.

With such big baseline numbers for broadcast and cable TV, the behavior of these two broadcast categories have been key drivers of the advertising sector’s overall performance.

But we mustn’t forget another category that’s been performing pretty miserably of late: newspaper advertising.  It’s experienced a ~10% decline on a compound annual basis from 2010 to 2014.

That decline is even steeper than earlier projections had suggested.

Todd Juenger, a vice president and senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein, made a key takeaway observation about the newly published figures, noting:

“Our original piece theorized [that] advertising would recover to prior levels. Instead, it has remained deflated, suggesting the perhaps the Internet really has enabled marketers to eliminate waste.”

He’s right, of course.

Magazine Profitability Strategies: Prevention Magazine Goes for a Radical Solution

pmWhen a business model becomes problematic, sometimes the only solution is to step outside the circle with some seriously radical thinking.

That seems to be what magazine publisher Rodale has done with its flagship media property, Prevention magazine.

As reported by Jeffrey Trachtenberg this past week in The Wall Street Journal, beginning with the July issue, Prevention will no longer accept print advertising.

It’s a major step for a publication as venerable as Prevention, in print since 1950 and an important player in the magazine segment focusing on nutrition, fitness and weight loss.

According to the Trachtenberg piece, Prevention magazine has actually seen an increase in ad pages – up over 8% to 700+ ad pages in 2015 over the year before.  But here’s the rub:  ad revenues were actually down because of circulation losses.

The magazine hasn’t turned a profit in a number of years, either, although other related Rodale titles have (Runner’s World and Men’s Health).

The radical surgery planned for the publication means that the number of pages of a typical magazine issue will decline dramatically. So the cost of printing and shipping will go down.  In order to make up for the loss in ad revenue, the magazine’s subscription price is set to more than double to nearly $50 per year.

Price-conscious as consumers are, that action is expected to drive circulation figures down even further – from around 1.5 million to roughly 500,000 if the company’s projections are correct.

Is this an ingenious idea that will preserve and strengthen a highly regarded publication? Or a desperate action that will end up simply driving this magazine into oblivion in a novel way?

Maria Rodale

Maria Rodale, CEO of the family-owned publication company, thinks the former. As she stated to reporter Trachtenberg:

“We’re walking away from revenue but we’re also walking away from a lot of expense. Let’s serve our readers and charge them for it.”

Rodale anticipates that Prevention magazine’s operating expenses will be reduced by more than 50%.

What are the implications of that?  Maria Rodale again:

“If you have to run the numbers out with an advertising model, it’s hard to see it ever getting to profitability. With a non-advertising model, it quickly becomes profitable.”

… But I’m not so sure. This radical departure from the traditional ad-supported publication model may pay short-term dividends.  But will it turn out to be merely a momentary respite before the next downward slide – this time into irrelevance?

With so much information being so easily accessible online (and free of charge) – particularly in the areas of preventive health – I can easily envision fewer and fewer people wishing to shell out $50+ per year for the benefit of receiving a monthly publication that may or not contain highly relevant and valuable information each and every issue.

What do you think? Is this a silver-bullet solution?  Or a zinc zeppelin?

Surprising statistic? One-third of American adults still aren’t on social media.

social mediaFor the many people who use social media on a daily basis, it may seem inconceivable that there are a substantial number of other Americans who aren’t on social media at all.

But that’s the case. The Pew Research Center has been tracking social media usage on an annual basis over the past decade or so, and it finds that about one-third of Americans still aren’t using any social networking sites.

To be sure, today’s ~65% participation rate is about ten times higher than the paltry ~7% participation rate Pew found the first time it surveyed Americans about their social media usage back in 2005.

According to Pew’s field research findings, here’s how the percentage of social media involvement has risen in selected years in the decade since. (The figures measure the percentage of Americans age 18 or over who use at least one social networking site.)

  • 2006: ~11% using at least one social networking site
  • 2008: ~25%
  • 2010: ~46%
  • 2012: ~55%
  • 2015: ~65%

In more recent years, the highest growth in social media participation rates has been among older Americans (over the age of 65), ~35% of whom are using social media today compared to just 11% five years ago.

That still pales in comparison to younger Americans (age 18-29), ~90% of whom use social media platforms.

While it’s a common perception that women are more avid users of social media than men, Pew’s research shows that the participation rate is actually not that far apart. Statistically it isn’t significant, in fact: a ~68% social media participation rate for women versus ~62% for men.

pew-research-centerSimilarly, there are more similarities than differences among the various racial and ethnic groups that Pew surveys — and the same dynamics are at work when it comes to differing education levels, too.

Regional differences in social media practice continue to persist, however, with rural residents less likely to use social media than suburban residents by a ten-point margin (58% versus 68%). City dwellers fall in between.

More details on Pew’s most recent field research on the topic of social media participation can be accessed here. See if you notice any surprising findings among them.

Six years on … and the U.S. ad economy is still in recession?

recession recoveryTwo reports from advertising research sources released in the past month reveal that the advertising field doesn’t appear to be rebounding in strongly – at least not to same degree as the economy as a whole.

One report, from U.S. Ad Market Tracker, is an index that pools electronic media buys processed by major agency holding companies and their brand marketers.

It’s true that this report shows an increase in the overall ad activity index year-over-year of about 18 points (it’s 184 today … 166 a year ago … and 100 back in the recession year of 2009).

But when we look at the breakdown where most of the advertising growth is coming from, it’s nearly all from a handful of categories: social media advertising, advertising on video, Internet radio, plus ad network marketplaces.

By contrast, search advertising is growing at a much slower rate, and the most “commoditized” segments – particularly online display advertising – are doing little better than treading water.

This isn’t the robust rebound that many business and ad industry observers were expecting to see by 2015.

advertisingOver at Kantar Media, the statistics are even less encouraging.

In fact, Kantar projects that the 2015 ad economy will underperform U.S. economic growth for the fifth straight year.

Considering how lethargic in general the U.S. economy has been over that period, to be growing at less than the average is almost an indictment of the industry.

That’s what Kantar Media Chief Research Officer Jon Swallen suggests:  a “streak that might have once seemed unimaginable, but now would seem par for the course.”

Second-quarter 2015 data released by Kantar estimates annualized measured media ad spending declines in the neighborhood of 4%.

More to the point, Kantar is seeing increases in just 7 of the 22 individual ad media categories it tracks, led by the same categories U.S. Ad Market Tracker identifies as the most healthy ones.

Perhaps a surprise — considering the overall disappointing numbers — is that Kantar has tracked two analogue categories as experiencing growth:  radio and out-of-home advertising.

But print continues to decline at pronounced rates, and Internet display advertising has also officially joined the ranks of media segments that are contracting.

Is the disappointing performance of advertising a function of a weak market overall?  Or is it the result of structural changes and the reallocation of promo dollars into different, in some cases non-advertising MarComm vehicles?

I’m not completely sure.  It’s true that certain advertising categories that are “newer” ones are attracting more attention (and more dollars).  But Kantar’s 2nd Quarter reporting of advertising expenditures by major industry category finds just one – one – segment that has experienced an overall increase year-over-year — pharmaceuticals:

Ad economy chart

When just one industry segment out of ten is showing an increase, it suggests more than just some restructuring or re-jiggering is going on. Instead, it’s just as likely that the U.S. advertising economy remains stuck in a recession, even if the overall economy has finally emerged from it.

What are your thoughts on the tepid advertising results? Please share your views with other readers.