'USA Today' Updates iPhone App, Improves Visual, Ad Options

Gannett has released the latest version of its iPhoneapp, a visually enhanced update that includes larger photos, more video in articles and streamlined navigation. It will also offer more prominent placement for ads.

Articles feature large color photos at the top and select stories include video clips. Readers can also flip through the day’s best pictures across news and sports, as well as celebrities. Headlines are also accompanied by thumbnail images that users can tap to read stories. Tapping on a photo within an article pops up a caption above the image.

New functionality also allows users to pinch and zoom weather maps and get detailed forecasts for up to 10 locations. They can take snapshot polls and the new release supports VoiceOver for audio versions of content. Based on a limited number of ratings (61) so far, the redesigned app is winning approval from users, earning a rating of 4.5 out of five stars in the App Store.

In addition to improving the look and feel of the USA Today app for the iPhone, improving performance was a key goal of the upgrade. The simplified navigation allows users to swipe up or down to browse headlines within sections, and an icon in the upper left corner brings readers back to a directory of newspaper sections and subcategories for each alongside them. 

On the ad front, Matt De Gannon, Gannett vice president, mobile product and operations, said the app is attempting to go beyond basic banner ads with new units that initially appear at the bottom of the screen but slip down to the end of an article after someone starts engaging with the content. “So that really, one placement gives the advertiser two bites at the apple,” said De Gannon.

Gannett said it expects advertising to be turned on by midweek.

De Gannon acknowledged that the adoption of apps and smartphones so far has outpaced advertiser demand. Recent comScore data estimates that 42% of U.S. mobile users have smartphones and about 48% used an app in December. A separate Flurry study, however, suggested that while people are spending 23% of their time across media in mobile, the segment is only capturing 1% of ad dollars.

“If ad dollars are still down around 1%, I think that’s going to change dramatically, certainly this year from what everybody is seeing,” said De Gannon. He noted that USA Today sells mobile advertising in various ways -- as part of cross-platform packages, mobile-only, or tailored to a particular platform like iOS or Android.

With the rollout of an app specifically for Amazon’s Kindle Fire in January, USA Today further expanded the mobile ad options for marketers. On board as the launch sponsor was Volkswagen. Across all platforms, the newspaper app has been downloaded 11.6 million times in the last three years, according to De Gannon.

“The product portfolio is starting to come together…and now we’re creating a foundation in which we will be able to put the content first, and deliver it in a consistent way across all the applications,” he said, noting that the mobile development work is being handled in-house.

If that effort can also help advertisers more easily run campaigns across different platforms and devices, it will be all the better for the publisher’s ad-based model in mobile. De Gannon said there are no plans to introduce subscriptions for USAToday tablets or other devices.

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