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Updated: 4 hours 12 min ago

From ATNIX to Hitwise: Australian Online News Audiences, 2012-14

Tue, 14/10/2014 - 15:46

It’s been a long time since I’ve published the Australian Twitter News Index (ATNIX) on a semi-regular basis – other commitments got the better of me for some time, I’m afraid. In addition, I’ve also needed to make a number of technical changes to make the index more manageable and sustainable, and I’ve outlined some of these developments here.

I’m now getting ready to get ATNIX started up again, though, and hopefully to make some further additions that will prove useful in the longer term. To get us started, I thought it might be useful to post a long-term overview of ATNIX trends since we started the index in mid-2012. Over the past two years, we’ve seen a growing adoption of Twitter in Australia, to a point where there are now more than 2.8 million accounts in the Australian Twittersphere – and it seems logical that this would also manifest in changes to the sharing patterns for Australian news sites on Twitter.

Indeed, the total volume of tweets sharing links to Australian news sites has increased during these two years – as has, it should be noted, the number of news sites we’ve tracked. In total, since mid-2012 (and allowing for a handful of server outages), we’ve captured some 20 million tweets in total, containing more than 24.5 million URLs. And those numbers have increased steadily: while in July 2012, we saw a total of 677,000 tweets linking to our Australian news sites, by July 2014 that number had grown to more than one million. (In fact, 2014 has seen particularly strong growth, perhaps due to the substantial confluence of various domestic and international events and crises.)

Broken down across the 35 Australian news and opinion sites we are currently tracking, these patterns look as follows (click to enlarge, and ignore the obvious drop-outs due to server maintenance in November 2013):

For long-term followers of our ATNIX data, it is immediately evident that the overall rankings amongst the major news sites have remained largely stable: ABC News and the Sydney Morning Herald remain the most widely shared news sites in Australia by some margin (and, it seems, by a margin that continues to increase relative to their nearest competitors). In the second tier, The Age and news.com.au are similarly running neck-and-neck. And they are followed, finally, by the rest of the field, with some of those sites occasionally recording major spikes due to the viral dissemination of single stories.

A closer look reveals a few more interesting patterns, however. The SMH appears to have recovered from a lengthy slump in popularity that began in early 2013, which saw it fall back from ABC News’ tail, and since April 2014 has been shadowing its major competitor much more closely once again. Amongst the opinion and commentary sites, The Conversation is the obvious market leader, though this is also boosted by its new-found transnational reach, with strong take-up in the UK and elsewhere – and it should be noted that following the site’s conversion from a .edu.au to a .com address we missed some months of data early this year, so its lead over nearest competitor Crikey would likely be even greater. And overall, the greatest spike in news sharing activity occurred, unsurprisingly, during the last federal election, when we captured more than 50,000 tweets linking to ABC News for the election week alone.

Sadly absent from this chart, however, are Guardian Australia and Daily Mail Australia. Due to their lack of a dedicated Australian domain, or of any other markers identifying their Australian coverage, we’re unable to separate Australia-specific news sharing activities from the global Guardian and Mail brands, and therefore cannot include them here. (We’re choosing to include The Conversation despite its now international audience, however, because it originated and continues to be substantively based in Australia.) Eventually, as we develop our data gathering approach further, we hope to develop the methods to better identify Australian-based sharing of news from these sources.

Introducing Experian Hitwise Data

As we develop ATNIX further, we also hope to place it into a wider context by comparing these Twitter-based news sharing patterns with reading and sharing activities elsewhere. We’ll soon attempt to tackle Facebook, but for now, here’s a glimpse of a very different data source: Experian Hitwise. Experian Marketing Services collects anonymous data at ISP level through opt-in panels about the Web searching and browsing patterns of Australian Internet users, and in the graph below I’ve compiled the site visit statistics for the same sites which we are tracking as part of ATNIX, for the same timeframe:

Total visits to Australian news and opinion sites, July 2012 to September 2014. Data courtesy of Experian Marketing Services Australia.

Once again, a significant rise in the total number of visits to news sites by Australian Internet users since the start of 2014 is evident, corresponding to a similar rise in news sharing during this time; we’re also seeing a matching dip in late April/early May, during the Easter / ANZAC Day holiday period. However, the ranking of news sites is markedly different: since early 2014, the market leader in Australian online news is news.com.au, even if such leadership doesn’t result in a similarly strong result in news sharing as we measure it through ATNIX. Conversely, ATNIX leader ABC News ranks ‘only’ fifth amongst the most read news sites in Australia.

Amongst the opinion and commentary sites, The Conversation and Crikey lead the Experian Hitwise rankings, too, but the rest of the leaderboard is structured quite differently. This is probably an indication of the respective positioning of these sites: to attract a loyal readership in their own right, to encourage the viral distribution of their articles, or both. Experian Hitwise records a surprisingly strong readership for The Morning Bulletin, for example, while ATNIX does not show its content to be very widely shared through Twitter; conversely, New Matilda content is widely shared, but according to the Experian Hitwise figures it does not seem to have a very large regular audience.

And finally, the Experian Hitwise numbers also provide us with a glimpse of Guardian Australia’s and Daily Mail Australia’s market positioning: by late September they’ve managed to rise to eight and fifth place on the Experian Hitwise chart, respectively, and continue to trend gradually upwards. We’ll watch their further development with interest.

Standard background information: ATNIX is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude the non-news sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). Data on Australian Internet users’ news browsing patterns are provided courtesy of Experian Marketing Services Australia. This research is supported by the ARC Future Fellowship project “Understanding Intermedia Information Flows in the Australian Online Public Sphere”.