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Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

FT managing editor says Candy Crush now a competitor as survey says a third of Britons access news on mobiles

By William Turvill

The managing editor of the Financial Times has revealed that he sees Candy Crush (pictured, Reuters) and other smartphone applications as a new form of competition.

Robert Shrimsley spoke of the “constant fight for attention” that news organisations face on mobile at an event to mark the publication of the Reuters Digital News Report.

The global study showed that in a Yougov online survey of more than 2,000 people in the UK, 33 per cent said they used their smartphones to read the news – up from 29 per cent last year. 

“Sometimes I’m asked who I consider our major rivals are. And I suppose you say sort of Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal, but I actually end up saying Candy Crush half the time,” Shrimsley said.

“Once upon a time you got on a train, you had a newspaper, your book or some headphones – that was all you could do. If you chose a newspaper, we’d got you. Now you’ve got umpteen opportunities. There are so many things you can do.”

The report also demonstrated the dominance of BBC News in the UK, with 47 per cent of those surveyed saying they use its online services.

The next most read according to the survey was the Mail Online, with 14 per cent accessing it as an online news resource.   

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The survey also showed that 68 per cent used BBC News for 'offline' news following, with its nearest rival being ITV News, accessed by 30 per cent.


Speaking alongside Shrimsley on the panel, former BBC director of global news Richard Sambrook said this dominance was bad news for the BBC ahead of its Royal Charter renewal in 2015 (because of the suggestion that the corporation stifles commercial news operations).

Asked by chair Ed Williams, of PR firm Edelman, whether the BBC’s online success could cause “vulnerability”, he said: “It already is I think. And I’m sure that those inside the BBC are thinking about their arguments for the Charter renewal and the rest of it are already grappling with what they do about that.

“I remember… board meetings where – in radio, for example, where the BBC is also dominant – someone would come up with another great set of listening figures, and everyone’s faces would drop: ‘Oh God, here’s another problem for us.’ So it’s difficult in the BBC when success becomes a problem… and it’s clearly an issue.”

Shrimsley noted: “I think it’s a problem we’d be happy to have, by the way. I think we’d manage.”

Some 9 per cent of those surveyed said they accessed the Huffington Post in the UK for online news – putting it on a par with The Guardian and Yahoo.

Huffington Post UK editor Carla Buzasi claimed that after three years in the UK her website has become “part of the establishment”. She said it was surprising that, aside from HuffPo and Buzzfeed, no other US brands have made the journey across the Atlantic in recent years.

She said: “I think the rest of the media needs to open our arms up a little bit and say come on in. I think it would be great if Business Insider came over here. It makes us raise our game and it gets more people interested in news online and that can be no bad thing for any of us.”

Buzasi added: “I find it slightly baffling that we haven’t seen the Daily Beast,, coming over here.”

Sambrook, who is now a professor of journalism at Cardiff University, said he did not expect the “listical approach” of Buzzfeed (used by 3 per cent of Britons and 5 per cent in the US according to the survey) to remain successful.

“I personally think it will be quite short-lived because they don’t deliver the promise,” he said.

“So, you know, ‘click here, you’ll never guess what happened next’ – well, actually, you discover not very much happened next… And I don’t think that’s going to work for very long.”

He added: “But the interesting thing for me is that actually what’s going on there is good old-fashioned tabloid journalism.

“So, you know, Buzzfeed or Upworthy or Vice and others and building an audience based around really engaging, sometimes entertainment, sometimes other forms of content, but they’re now starting to invest in serious content and serious journalism.”

He said he believes “digital dollars are starting to go back into serious journalism and serious news”.

Asked by Press Gazette how he rates the progress and success of the Mail Online, a British export which has become the world’s biggest newspaper website, Sambrook said: “They worked out what worked online and just chased it and followed it.

“The issue they’ve got now is that their online site is an entirely different proposition to the newspaper and it’s going to be interesting to see what that means for… how they take it forward.

“Because they are a very different and appealing to different audiences… I think there’s a kind of global brand issue there.”

Also on the panel was Guardian chief executive Andrew Miller, who questioned about how long the success of Mail Online can continue in its current form.

“I think it saw what was happening ahead of the game and built on a fantastic proposition for celebrity coverage and the celebrity world and built a brilliant brand off that,” he said.

“I think the challenge for them is perhaps what they do next… This format feels, in my view, like it’s tired in terms of design and feel. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how they monetise it and what they do with it. “

Buzasi added: “Mail Online, just to echo what’s been said here. Why’s it been a success? Lots of photographs of celebrities in bikinis. We did a survey actually in the ad industry recently and it was really great coming back… a wonderful quote that made my heart sing, which was: ‘We understand the difference between Mail Online and Huffington Post – one’s gone full-scale about celebrities and Huffington Post is all about quality content.’ So that was quite nice.”

Summary of UK findings

84 per cent of Britons are said to have access to the internet

According to the YouGov online survey (which was carried out in January and February this year):

  • 62 per cent have access to smartphones
  • 42 per cent have access to tablets
  • 64 per cent said they were interested in the news.

The top social network for gathering news was Facebook, with 22 per cent using it for this purpose. Some 12 per cent said they used Twitter, 6 per cent used Youtube and 2 per cent used Google+ and WhatsApp respectively.

The report noted that while Twitter is most used by journalists, Facebook is more important for referrals to news sites.

Of the 2,000-plus people surveyed, 35 per cent get news on at least two digital devices, and ten per cent use three or more.

While 24 per cent said a smartphone is their main way of accessing news, 16 per cent use a tablet primarily.

Of those surveyed, 7 per cent paid for subscriptions to online news.

This broke down as follows:

  • 37 per cent – The Times
  • 23 per cent – Telegraph
  • 20 per cent – The Sun

The Telegraph has been behind a metered paywall since April last year and The Sun has been behind a full paywall online since August. The Telegraph has yet to reveal any paywall figures, but this relatively small survey sample suggests the paywall success lies somewhere between The Times and The Sun (so between 100 and 150,000 paying subscribers).

Of the ten countries surveyed, people in the UK were least likely to pay for online news.

A full version of the report can be read here.

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