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July 26, 2013updated 30 Jul 2013 4:27pm

The BBC passes mobile landmark. And that matters why?

By Jon Bernstein

An interesting nugget from Sarah Marshall over at who reports that, for the first time, more people visited the BBC website via mobile phones than desktop and laptop PCs.

It happened earlier this month (on Sunday 14 and then again on Saturday 20 July), the first of these occasions largely driven by news of the death of Cory Monteith, an actor from the US TV series Glee.

Given the nature of that story and the demographic of the Glee audience, it is likely that social media was responsible for directing a significant amount of traffic to the BBC and is a reflection that the mobile phone is the “computer” of choice at weekends.

And yet passing the 50 per cent threshold won’t be seen as exceptional for long; on a typical day the BBC already receives 42 per cent of its traffic in this way.

The direction of travel is clear: more and more people are accessing news-based websites from mobile devices (tablets as well as smartphones) and we have plenty of evidence that this is the case.

Take these two charts that I have shown before. The first, from the Financial Times, shows clear mobile peaks morning and late afternoon during the week (commuting time) and a heap more traffic at weekends, underscoring the BBC experience.

FT mobile consumption

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Then there’s this from the Guardian that shows consumption across a typical day. Of particular interest is the green line that shows access via tablet computers (to not the paper’s app, by the way). Again note the smallish morning peak and the large and sustained evening peak (see Five Guardian graphs that show how tablets are changing web consumption for more on this).

Guardian readership by medium across the day

Finally there’s this, courtesy of Nasdaq’s Minyaville blog, which shows operating system share across all devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, mobiles).

2013 Operating System Market chart (Nasdaq blog)

A little techie perhaps but combine the Android piece of the pie with (some of) the iOS/MacOS piece and this outweighs Windows by around three to one. Given Windows is a decent proxy for conventional desktop computers, this chart is indicative of how consumption has changed in the last few years (you can arguably pin the beginning of the trend to the launch of the first Apple iPhone in 2007).

Why does all this matter? For three reasons at least.

First, it should make any news publisher think hard about how their website looks on tablets and smartphones. If the site is difficult to read on these devices you might get passing mobile visitors but they are unlikely to stay for long (check dwell times on Google Analytics or your metrics package of choice for proof of that). That means you will have to think about other ways to display your website and for the first time you should probably think of designing with these smaller devices in mind first. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to get familiar with responsive and adaptive design.  

Second, given consumption on these devices is happening at times outside the working day you will need to rethink how you man the news desk. That means changing shift patterns.

Third, much of this activity on smart devices is happening on conventional websites and not on Apple or Android apps which might be a problem for those that have staked their digital survival on customers paying for app content. Moreover, as one senior digital executive at a successful UK publisher told me, upselling readers from a conventional website to an app version is proving incredibly difficult, even when that reader habitually accesses the site from a tablet or smartphone. This in turn means publishers are going to have to think even harder about the business model.

Jon Bernstein is a freelance digital media consultant. You can read his blog here


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