USA Today is among the publishers that are moving early into the mobile space, with more than a dozen properties spanning the mobile Web and apps, smartphones and tablets. As the newspaper industry grapples with the digital transition, mastering the mobile landscape will be a key part of that effort.
MediaPost caught up with David Payne, SVP and chief digital officer at Gannett Co., to discuss how the company’s flagship newspaper is keeping up with the audience shift to connected devices.
MP: What has been USA Today’s approach to building out its mobile presence, especially when it comes to apps?
DP: Consistently, USA Today either gets into that first wave of application development -- often we’re invited into that process as new operating systems are developed -- or if we’re not invited into that early wave, we’re immediately on it. The strategy has been to push out product as fast as possible, native to the application, and avoid trying to port one thing over to another platform. The most recent one was the Kindle Fire, where we had a team develop specifically for the Fire, and got that out in time for Christmas.
MP: How many downloads have USA Today apps had to date?
DP: Across all of our products for tablets and smartphones and tablets, we’re at about 14.5 million downloads. The majority of our traffic and downloads are on the iPhone and iPad. We have 4.7 million users across all our mobile platforms. There are more people using our mobile products on a daily basis than looking at the [print] newspaper.
MP: What difference do you see in use between tablets and smartphones?
DP: They’re completely different platforms, particularly when it comes to monetization. That really is the ultimate question -- how do we translate the growth we’re seeing in these products to revenue growth? The tablet has the potential to take television share, a larger proportion of the display market and the print market, radio and so forth. We’re already developing really interesting video, social, branding and direct-response units inside that one platform. When you get to the phone, that can be more of an activation device, or a facilitator of m-commerce. It’s going to be a platform that we run a lot of ads on. Those two divergent paths with mobile require two different strategies.
MP: Is the tablet the main focus for USA Today when it comes to mobile?
DP: From an ad standpoint, two data points are becoming more defined. The tablet is largely a product being used at home, a little bit at work, and generally being used on Wi-Fi. People are consuming news content early in the morning, late at night and on the weekend. And that lends itself to a different type of ad strategy, in addition to the screen itself being large enough for people to shop for products.
MP: Given those differences, are you trying to sell advertising across platforms?
DP: We’re definitely doing the cross-platform sell as a way to reach people at different times in different places. The industry is not quite there yet in selling different messages synchronized with behavior. We’re selling Olympic packages against all products and platforms now.
MP: Earlier this year, Gannett adopted a metered subscription model for the digital versions of its local newspapers. Could that model be extended to USA Today?
DP: The current plan is to stay with an ad-supported model.
MP: What proportion does mobile advertising contribute to total ad revenue for USA Today?
DP: We’re in the same place as anybody, with the possible exception of Weather Channel, in that 10% to 20% range.
MP: What’s in the pipeline?
DP: We’re actually in the process of relaunching all of USA Today, about eight new products coming out in the next couple of months. We’ll push out a new iPad app, a Windows 8 product, a newly designed mobile Web product, a new release on the iPhone, and an update to the Kindle Fire.
MP: How do you see the outlook for Windows 8 on the desktop and tablets?
DP: We’re really excited about that because of the distribution opportunity you have with Microsoft; it still owns the work marketplace. We have an extraordinary amount of distribution and use of news content at work. With the Windows 8 platform, you also have touch-enabled applications, which really start marrying the tablet with the desktop.