- 5 Maggio 2011

Seeking Osama: Anatomy of a News Firestorm in a Cross-Platform Environment

When the news broke late Sunday evening that U.S. armed forces had managed to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden, a range of emotions washed over me, including relief, elation, pride and so many others. But soon after the initial “pinch-myself, is this really finally happening?” moment subsided, I was immediately consumed with a voracious appetite to read anything and everything covering the details of the capture and the geopolitical analysis. I had the news on the TV and about 15 tabs open in my web browser as I flipped back and forth between my favorite news sites to see what other details of the operation were beginning to leak out. I am sure I was not alone in feeding this news addiction.

Here at Comscore, we were curious to understand how others may have experienced this news, so we decided to do a little digging. Our analysis looks at the 24-hour period beginning at 7:00 PM ET on Sunday, May 1, and ending at 7:00 PM ET Monday, May 2. To understand Americans’ news consumption patterns in the aftermath of the news, we’re going to begin by gaining some overall perspective into how Osama Bin Laden (OBL) news coverage was consumed across various media, then we’ll examine some of the consumption patterns in relative terms.

Consumption of #OBL News Coverage Across Platforms
The illustration below shows us that, not surprisingly, computers accounted for the vast majority of OBL-related news consumption throughout the 24-hour period. However, during a few segments of the day, tablet and mobile traffic accounted for notable percentages of the total.

Next, we decided to see how this news story affected the composition of all news traffic to understand just how pervasive the coverage and resulting reader interest was. We specifically looked at OBL-related news consumption as a percentage of total news consumption. OBL-related news coverage was estimated by analyzing the traffic patterns for all news sites with URLs including broad matches of the terms “Osama” or “Bin Laden,” as the majority of related news stories included these terms in their URLs. News coverage spiked dramatically around 10pm ET Sunday night with about 10 percent of all computer traffic to news sites being Osama-related – a fairly sizeable percentage given how expansive and diverse news reporting can be. This percentage spiked substantially higher among tablet users – between 20-25 percent – and was highest at around 30 percent among mobile Internet users. These figures are pretty staggering, especially when considering that these figures only account for articles that were obviously OBL-related (per their URL structure).

We also wanted to understand how consumer behavioral patterns might shift by medium throughout the day. We looked at the share of each medium’s OBL traffic for each of the 24 hours as a percentage of overall OBL traffic for that medium. Interestingly, we see that tablet readership saw the highest relative percentage of its activity occur in the immediate aftermath of the news on Sunday night. Mobile news consumption was also relatively high during that period, while PC consumption that time was more modest in comparison to other dayparts. Notice that there is another spike in mobile activity between 7:00-9:00 AM on Monday, most likely as people glued themselves to their phones during their commutes to work. PC traffic saw its highest relative consumption during this 24-hour period in the late morning and early afternoon, as people checked out news during the workday from their computers.

The Future of News Consumption?
The quest for news about Osama bin Laden exhibited in these charts illustrates how increasingly dependent on technology we’ve become to keep informed of developments especially as they pertain to important breaking news. Mobile and tablet devices are becoming a more significant part of the digital media landscape, as it’s becoming clearer how they help fill in the gaps when consumers may not always be right by a computer. From our analysis of news consumption in recent days, we’ve shown that many people opted for these devices – myself included – to feed our need for news in the wake of this historic event. This behavior is only going to grow more prevalent with time with the plethora of devices coming out to support growing information needs. And in this real-time environment where we can always be plugged in, one can expect news consumers will only become savvier in consuming a constant stream of news from multiple platforms. The capture and killing of Osama bin Laden may have just given us an important glimpse into the future of news consumption.

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