How Some Publishers are Beating the New Digital Lulls

Data suggest that digital engagement is leveling off for most, but not all.


digital lulls imageFor magazine media generally, the Magazine Media 360º Brand Audience Report for July shows continued contraction in desktop traffic (-14.4% versus the same period last year) that is now being joined by flattening or contraction in mobile web activity (-2.2%).

It’s still hard to tell how real the mobile stasis is, since the aggregator of this data—the MPA—reported last month that January 2017 changes to the comScore methodology around desktop and mobile had changed.

We’ll get a clearer sense early next year whether, and to what degree, mobile may be growing. In terms of organic smartphone growth, we are already at the point of saturation—81% of cell phone owners as of December 2017 (comScore).

Magazine media still has creative mojo in a world of me-too social distribution and usage growth. Someone has to provide the initial spark, even in this age of regurgitated media.

One brand that’s beating the mobile lull is Bonnier’s Flying (+73% mobile). Shawn Bean, editorial director, Active Interest Network, tells us that the July growth was led by a great story written by Editor Stephen Pope that debunked the new Amelia Earhart theory that “she did not crash into the ocean but was taken prisoner by the Japanese.”

By some accounts, north of 80% of our mobile screen time is being spent in apps rather than the web, but most magazines gave up any dream of pulling mobile eyeballs into their own media branded app long ago—for good reason. According to comScore’s latest mobile usage metrics, more than half of users’ time is spent in only five apps. In fact, 49% of overall mobile time is spent in one app.

And yet, some branded media apps with very specific purposes continue to thrive. Trusted Media Brands’ VP, Group Publisher of House & Garden Group, Russ Ellis, tells min that its Family Handyman DIY Tip Genius app enjoyed 660,000 downloads, with over 100,000 of those upgraded to the $4.99 premium version. About 10% of the base revisits the app monthly, he reports. Promotion was handled principally through O&O properties, as well as email blasts, but the app does get discovered in the app stores themselves. The plan into 2018 is to target millennials who apparently have a big taste for DIY.

There was no talk of digital traffic slowdown at W in July (+25.2% desktop, +92.6% mobile, +72.2% video), which excelled the old fashioned way—sheer creative force. Its popular Emmy-time package of TV content included a video celebrity rendering of Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” lyrics. But it was W’s full-on campaign to make cover star Charlize Theron the next James Bond that really had (ahem) legs. It included a mock movie poster, an endorsement from Chris Hemsworth, and media pickups pretty much everywhere.

One of the more interesting developments in magazine media in the past year has been the transfer this spring of the Us Weekly digital property from Wenner Media to American Media Inc. While the July YoY metrics (-25.8% desktop, -26% mobile, -44.4% video) suggest a drop-off of digital activity, AMI Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard says the brand has seen a 25% spike in page views between May and August and a sharp drop in bounce rate of 45%. Session time has increased by about 20 seconds as well. Howard says that Us exclusives like photos of Leonardo DicCaprio and Kate Winslet, the latest Kim Kardashian pregnancy and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie divorce coverage are driving brand visibility against a sea of socially distributed aggregators.

“AMI has constructed and created an internal recirculation platform that allows our suite of brands to move readers from site to site, growing page views across the entire network,” he says. “We also established an ‘influencer network’ to help seed our content to nearly three-times as many social followers as Us previously had access to.” The brand is also moving aggressively into omni-platform video with inaugural series for Facebook Watch and an “Us Weekly Famous Feuds” program for REELZ.



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