ABC reaches the top in large-scale digital news shakeup

In March, ABC captured the largest online news audience in the country by a considerable 24 per cent margin.

Coronavirus undoubtedly played a big part, but having now been no.1 for three consecutive months, it appears possible we might have witnessed a changing of the guard from long-time market leader News.com.au.

It’s been a long road to the top for the ABC.

Considering how far ahead of commercial rivals the broadcaster introduced catch-up TV service iview, it was noticeably slower to adapt in the digital news space.

Reliable historical figures can be hard to come by, but this piece from the UK’s Press Gazette suggests the BBC was 50 per cent ahead of commercial rivals way back in 2011.

By contrast, the ABC was ranked fifth in Australia in 2013 and has climbed gradually since.

The latest result is a testament to the digital focus of ABC Director of News Gaven Morris, as he and his Editor of ABC News Digital, Grant Sherlock, have invested in world-class digital work.

David Speers

High-profile presenters such as David Speers and Annabel Crabb regularly file for online, adding star power to the hardworking digital natives who produce the bulk of the output.

ABC’s rise is one of a number of interesting subplots in this year’s digital news rankings, which have seen 7News beat 9News for the second consecutive month. Seven only relaunched its news website in April 2019 after splitting from long-time partner Yahoo!.

Meanwhile, The Sydney Morning Herald fell to seventh in March, after falling outside the top five in January for the first time since re-entering the Nielsen system in 2018.

All of the biggest online audiences in the country now belong to broadcasters or digital-only specialists, including UK imports The Guardian and Daily Mail Australia.

This is in part because all of Australia’s major newspapers now have a paywall of some description, in a bid to obtain more value from readers.

For communications professionals, it’s important to know the relative size of each publisher’s audience, although the overall monthly breadth measure has its limitations. TV ratings are pored over in half-hour increments, yet in online the ‘monthly uniques’ measure is still the industry benchmark.

A better guide would be total time spent on news websites during the month. This rewards sites with high engagement and a relatively small reliance on search and social traffic.

On this measure, ABC has led News.com.au for some time while 7News is well down the list.

Of course, it’s not necessarily the size of the audience that matters most but who is in it and whether it aligns to your company’s strategic communication objectives.

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