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October 17, 2014updated 20 Oct 2014 8:47pm

News on the Move: How BBC is going mobile-first…Metro’s online success story…Why Times is reader-first, not digital-first

By Dominic Ponsford

Reports from the News on the Move III conference organised by Press Gazette in association with News UK held at the News Building on 16 October 2014, scroll down to watch the full video of the event

The majority of traffic to the BBC News website now comes from mobile and tablet devices.

BBC News mobile editor Nathalie Malinarich told Press Gazette’s News on the Move conference that the corporation is set to move completely to a responsive design website in the near future as a result of the growth of the mobile audience.

This means it will move from having desktop and mobile versions of the site to having one site, designed with mobile devices in mind – but which also scales up to be viewed on desktop.

She revealed that 56 per cent of traffic to the BBC website comes from mobile and tablet devices during the week and 64 per cent at weekends.

She said that “explainer” journalism has helped fuel mobile growth, both in the form of snappy and visual text-based Q and As and with short videos.

“In the past week, six out out of the last seven days, an ebola explainer has been in the top 20 for mobile.

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“It’s about answering the question that people are asking themselves, it’s the same with video.”

How Metro became UK's fastest-growing newspaper website

Former head of digital at Metro Martin Ashplant spoke about how moving the free newspaper's website to a mobile-first responsive design format in December 2012 has transformed its traffic.

He said: “We had desktop experience, if you ended up on mobile you were lucky of you got anything.

“The page views per visit was horrendous and the dwell time was horrendous as well.”

The site was moved from an internally-built content management system to WordPress VIP: “We built it in mobile then scaled it up to tablet and scaled it up to desktop.”

By April 2014 Metro was the fastest growing UK national newspaper website, with traffic up 150 per cent year on year.

However, he revealed that making money from the site has been a challenge.

“The commercial proposition is an evolving one. I had many discussions with people from the sales team along the lines of, can you not just get me more desktop because that’s what we can sell?

“It’s primarily because we are all lazy. Display ads are the easy option to sell. At a scalable level if you’ve got display inventory you sell them in bulk.”

He said that the commercial model he is following in his new job, as online director of City AM, is to make money from mobile through native sponsored content and native ads, which appear in the flow of the stories.

Why a bespoke tablet app is not the answer for City AM

Like Metro, City AM has moved to a responsive, mobile-friendly site.

And unlike Metro, it won’t be producing a bespoke tablet app.

Ashplant said: “I’ve been involved in the edition app at Metro, it’s a brilliant product – a stylised newspaper-feel app.”

But he said it took a team of ten to create it each day, adding digital “bells and whistles”, and that “no matter what we did, no matter how good the app was we couldn’t get above a daily ceiling in audience numbers.”

City AM instead has a more simple daily app which recreates the print newspaper for tablets.

Ashplant said: “It allows us to focus on what we really want to be doing which is the responsively designed site."

If you do one thing, focus on a responsive-design mobile-friendly website

Asked what advice he would give to other publishers who want to capitalise on mobile traffic growth, he said: “For me responsive design is the answer to a number of prayers because it means you can produce a website and worry about the website and then as long as you’ve done it right in the first place you know that people are going to get a decent experience.

“My preference would always be focus on mobile because that’s where the growth is, that’s where the audience is, that’s where it’s going to increase in the next few years. So if you are going to focus on one area, focus on that smartphone.”

Buzzfeed reached mobile tipping point in July 2013

Buzzfeed UK editor Luke Lewis said that his site has drawn a majority of its traffic from mobile devices since July 2013.

And he revealed that it was happy a coincidence that both the design and business model of Buzzfeed were perfect for mobile. Buzzfeed makes most of its money from sponsored content, rather than display advertising, so it means it works equally well on mobile and desktop.

He said: “When we have a huge break-out viral hit post 90 per cent plus come from mobile. You can’t have a huge hit post on Buzzfeed without mobile devices.

“Nowadays our traffic peaks quite late in the day, it starts to pick up around at around 6pm and tends to peak at around 10pm, People are reading Buzzfeed posts at home in front of the TV and on their way home."

Buzzfeed daily traffic chart:

How Guardian's weekend traffic is dominated by mobile

Guardian mobile editor Subhajit Banerjee quoted Guardian traffic figures from a recent Saturday which showed that 41 per cent of page views come from desktop with the rest coming from mobile devices.

Of these, smartphones were the biggest sources of traffic followed by tablet computers and then the Android and IPhone apps.

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Times is reader-first, not digital first

Times and Sunday Times head of digital Alan Hunter revealed that reading times for his papers’ tablet editions were now equivalent to the print.

He said: "Essentially what we are offering is our editions where people want them. We would say we are not really digital-first we are reader-first. So wherever people want to get our content we will be there for them.

“At the heart of that is our tablet edition where we have 72,000 people on a daily basis and 93,000 on a Sunday.”

He said that readers spend an average of 40 minutes with The Times tablet edition during the week and nearly an hour on a Sunday.

News UK director of advertising strategy Abba Newbery revealed that despite the fact readers spend an equal amount of time with The Times and Sunday Times tablet editions, advertising agencies are reluctant to pay the same rate for app adverts.

She said News UK has invested in neuroscientific research where readers's brains have been monitored to see how they respond to adverts in the tablet edition. She said this proves that these adverts are just as effective as those in the print edition.

Watch the video of the whole event:

Timetable for News on the Move:

1-2pm – Registration over lunch

2pm – Welcome and opening comments from Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford

2.05pm – Keynote talk from Mike Darcey, chief executive of News UK (publisher of The Times, Sunday Times and The Sun)

Mike Darcey has been chief executive of News UK since January 2013 and is a former chief operating officer of BSkyB.

2.30pm – Successful mobile and tablet editorial strategies for print news publishers

·       Martin Ashplant: Former head of digital at Metro.co.uk (consistently the UK’s fastest growing newspaper website) now director of digital and social media at City AM

·       Alan Hunter – Head of digital for The Times and Sunday Times

·       Subhajit Banerjee – Guardian News and Media mobile editor

3.20pm – Tea break

3.35pm – Successful mobile and tablet editorial strategies for digital-only publishers

·       Push (Christopher Dawes): Editor of sucessful tablet-only subscription magazine Electronic Sound

·       Nathalie Malinarich: Mobile editor for BBC News Online

·       Luke Lewis – Editor of Buzzfeed UK

4.25pm – Show me the money: Insight into how to make journalism pay on tablet and mobile devices

·       Abba Newbery – News UK director of advertising strategy

·       Alex Kozloff – Head of mobile for the Internet Advertising Bureau

·       Nic Newman – Editor of Reuters Institute Digital Report, research fellow at City University, former Controller Future Media at the BBC. 

5.20pm – Closing remarks from Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford.

5.30-7pm – Networking drinks.

News on the Move III was presented in association with News UK:

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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