Reach, the publisher behind national titles including the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express as well as regional publications such as the Liverpool Echo and the Daily Record, has seen its audience grow to take the top spot for unique digital viewers in the UK.
The more than 70 sites in Reach’s digital network racked up an average of 42.1 million monthly visitors in the third quarter of 2020 – more than 3.5 million more than second-place BBC.
The publisher is also on a drive to boost registrations, with a spokesperson for Reach saying that the company was on track to sign up 10 million registered customers by the end of 2022.
The Comscore data ranks Reach as one entity, whereas other publishers (like News UK) are separated into different brands. So its ranking is not a like for like comparison with other publishers.
The audience data from Comscore also shows that established brands rather than digital “insurgents” have the biggest readership despite the challenges of a digital age with the Sun Online, Mail Online/Daily Mail and ESI Media, which publishes the Independent and Evening Standard, completing the top five.
Although the BBC remains ahead of the Sun Online and Mail Online, Comscore’s data shows that the tabloid and the mid-market title have made inroads into the BBC’s lead since the 2017. The Mail Online’s October audience was only 5% less than that of the BBC, compared to almost 40% less in September 2017. The Sun Online is also hot on the BBC’s heels – it counted 40 million unique monthly viewers in October 2020 – around 20% less than the BBC’s sites, compared to close to 40% fewer in September 2017.
When contacted by Press Gazette, a spokesperson for the BBC however, said that its own audience data shows that the number of unique browsers to BBC sites has increased in recent years – driven largely by increased audience to BBC News online. The BBC’s own performance data records a much higher number of unique visitors to their sites than Comscore’s figures.
When it comes to page views – the data shows that the BBC is still out ahead. In September, the broadcaster had almost twice the number of page views as the Mail Online and almost three times more than the Sun Online, although the gap has narrowed significantly since September 2017 when the BBC had almost three times the page views of the Mail Online and nine times as many as the Sun Online.
The highest-ranking “digital born” publisher was Verizon-owned Yahoo-HuffPost News Network which is counted as a single entry in Comscore’s rankings. ESI Media ranked fifth with 27.5 million views, most of those for the Independent which has been digital-only since 2016.
Overall – as the table at the foot of this article shows – only a handful of digital-born titles made it into the top 50. Among them were Insider Inc which counts among its brands Business Insider. The publisher racked up an average of 10.4 million unique monthly viewers in the third quarter of 2020. The Verge, Entertainment Daily and Vox were among the other few “web natives” to make it into the top 50.
Instead, the majority of the top 50 are older media such as the digital offerings of TV-led brands such as the BBC and CNN, as well as the online editions of national and local print titles.
Leading online titles saw a rise in digital readers as a result of Coronavirus. In contrast to print sales, which were sharply hit by the first national lockdown on 23 March, news sites saw a surge in traffic as audiences rushed to track the pandemic’s progress. The top 50 news publishers collectively saw a 15% increase in visitors between the last quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020.
Comparing data from the third quarter of 2018 with the third quarter of 2020, shows that the Times’ unique viewers surged by over 200%. Also scoring well was USA Today whose audience was up 52% and NBC News which received 49% more visitors.
In contrast, as Press Gazette research has recently shown, traffic for many major pure-play digital publishers “born” on the web levelled out prior to lockdown in March and lags behind much of the old guard.