Monday, February 28, 2022

BIG MEDIA FAILURE: News Engagement 'Falls Off a Cliff' in 2021; What Could Be the Cause?

Source: Axios

Published: January 4, 2022

By: Sara Fischer, Neal Rothschild

Engagement with news content plummeted last year compared to 2020, and given the ongoing decline in interest in news about COVID-19 and politics, it doesn't look like 2022 will be much better.


Why it matters: The Trump era and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created a one-of-a-kind media moment that will be hard for news companies to replicate.

  • With fewer singular storylines capturing America's collective attention, news consumption was more scattered and diverted to sports.
  • Data shows that the Omicron variant is not jumpstarting Americans' engagement in COVID news like it did at the onset of the pandemic.

By the numbers: Primetime news viewership was down 36% across the three major cable networks, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, with the steepest decline during that time frame happening at CNN, per Nielsen ratings.

  • Broadcast viewership was also down for broadcast networks' evening news shows, but the declines weren't as drastic, the Associated Press notes.
  • App downloads for the top 12 mainstream publishers dropped 33%, according to data from Apptopia. Downloads to news apps fell most dramatically during the second half of the year.
  • Engagement on social media with news articles nosedived, according to data from NewsWhip. Interactions (likes, comments, shares) dropped 65% between 2020 and 2021, despite more articles published.
  • Website visits for the top-performing news websites in the U.S. tracked by Similarweb in the first 11 months of 2021 dropped 8%.

Yes, but: As Axios has previously noted, traffic to hyper-partisan and political publishers took a severe hit in 2021, while mainstream news publishers did better.

Be smart: The full-year drop in news engagement would have been even more dramatic were it not for the enormous amount of news traffic driven by the Capitol siege in January.

  • The Capitol riots drove a massive global traffic spike in January 2021, according to Bonnie Ray, the head of data science at traffic analytics company Chartbeat.
  • Overall, Chartbeat found that amongst 4000+ publishers globally, traffic declined 8% between 2020 and 2021, but when comparing overall traffic for December 2021 to January 2021, it's down nearly 20%.

What to watch: A few landmark events — like the Beijing Winter Olympics and the 2022 midterm elections — could provide some much-needed traffic boosts for publishers looking to hold on to fleeting subscribers.

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