AI-powered news app Opera was downloaded 869,000 times in 2021, making it the most popular newly-installed news app in the UK this year.
The Opera app by the eponymous Norwegian company better known for its “alternative” browser beat last year’s most popular download, the BBC News app, to take a surprise top spot.
The BBC News app came in second place with 808,000 downloads – much less than the 2.2 million installations it racked up in 2020, according to Press Gazette’s analysis of data provided by app intelligence firm Sensor Tower.
This year, news aggregation apps have been downloaded more than legacy media brands' own apps. Fourth in the rankings was Breaking News (515,000 downloads), followed by UK Breaking News (482,000 downloads) in fifth and US app NewsBreak (253,000 downloads) in eleventh. Reach’s local news aggregator, InYourArea was the twelfth most-downloaded mobile app (239,000 downloads).
The highly popular Apple News app, which comes pre-installed on iPhones, did not appear in the data due to Apple security rules.
The most popular legacy news app, excluding the two from the BBC in the ranking, was the Sky News app (328,000 downloads). Mail Online’s app was downloaded 199,000 times making it the fourteenth best-ranked news app, while The Guardian’s app was downloaded 173,000 times (sixteenth place).
Sports news apps also proved popular among UK readers. The BBC Sport app was third with 570,000 downloads and the Talksport app was in sixth place with (414,000 downloads). Five of the top 20 news apps specialise in sports news.
Overall, the top news apps were downloaded slightly more times in 2021 compared to 2020. The top ten news apps this year were downloaded a combined 6.7 million times, compared to a total of 6 million times for last year’s top ten.
Legacy players however lost out in 2021. In 2020 apps from five major legacy brands (BBC News, Guardian, Sky News, The Mail and The Sun) were collectively downloaded 4.2 million times. This year, the same group of five apps was downloaded 1.6 million times.
While 2021 download data appears to favour a number of relatively new players, Press Gazette has previously reported that total time spent engaging with news media on mobile, not captured in this data, tends to be heavily weighted towards established news brands in the UK.
Most popular news apps in the US
News aggregators proved popular in the US in 2021, making up the top three most-downloaded news apps during the year.
NewsBreak, a local news focused news aggregator co-launched by Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang, took the number one spot for the second year in a row with 10.7 million installations.
It was followed in second place by Opera News (5.7 million downloads) and in third place by SmartNews (2.6 million downloads). The Japanese app, which launched a US version in 2014, aims to give readers multiple viewpoints of a story to try and break them out of filter bubbles.
Apps from news publishers with stronger ideological leanings nevertheless performed well as right-wing and conservative publishers also scored strongly for downloads. Fox challenger News Max TV’s app was the fourth most-downloaded app in the US with 2.1 million downloads as of the end of November.
Fox News’ app was downloaded 1.8 million times (sixth most-popular news app), while Fox Nation, the cable giant’s video streaming app, was downloaded 1.1 million times (making it twelfth). Apps from Epoch Times and far-right network One America News also featured among the top 20 most-downloaded apps.
CNN (2 million downloads - fifth position) and New York Times (1.1 million downloads - eleventh position) were the best-ranked news apps by legacy newsbrands.
Biggest news apps worldwide
Indian news aggregator Daily Hunt was the most-downloaded news app globally in 2021 (55.9 million downloads). It was followed by NewsBreak (20.7 million downloads) and Opera News (19.6 million downloads). Half of the top ten spots were taken by Chinese and Indian apps; no surprise on account of their large populations.
Sports news apps also proved popular. Best-ranked was Cricbuzz (17 million downloads) which serves the large Indian cricket fanbase.
The Google News app came in at 19th place (5.7 million downloads).
News aggregation apps scored well globally - twelve of the top 20 were aggregators. While mobile aggregators play a relatively small part in the media eco-system of Western countries, they are much more popular in Asian markets including India, Japan and South Korea and according to the Reuters Institute are an important way for audiences to find news.
Earlier this year Apple agreed to allow news publishers to add external payments links in their apps to avoid paying Apple’s standard 30% fee for purchases made through the App Store. The change, set to come into effect in 2022, will allow news publishers better access to user data and save them a significant amount in fees.