Last week the Pew Research Center released a study called Gadget Ownership, that shows 85 percent of Americans own a cell phone and 96 percent of 18 to 29 year olds own one. The study also looked at ownership of desktop and computers, video game consoles, MP3 players and e-book readers and tablet computers.
The study’s findings show that cell phones are the most popular gadget among Americans. The most recent data available from comScore, which covered June through August, shows that about a quarter of the cell phones in the United States are smart phones. The comScore data also showed that smart phone ownership has increased by 14 percent since the previous three-month period.
People have cell phones. So what?
Plain and simple, it means that the media should be using mobile devices, applications and websites to connect with people where they are. The Pew study showed that young people aged 18 to 29, made up the largest group of cell phone owners coming in at 96 percent, and of this age group only 88 percent owned a computer. If the media are going to form a lasting connection with this age group, they need to be prepared to do so on a variety of platforms. Media must provide content in formats that are useful to their viewers.
Steve Buttry has been blogging since 2009 about the overall need for a mobile strategy in the news media. He has developed a strategy for mobile-first, but I think his overall philosophy sums up the problem quite well:
We need to become the mobile news, information and commerce connection for people with the latest iPhone, BlackBerry or Droid (and whatever comes next), but also for people with simpler phones that handle only phone calls and text messages and for non-phone devices such as iPods.
We need to figure the best ways to deliver news and conduct commerce effectively on mobile devices: text messages, email, mobile applications, tweets, easy-to-use mobile web sites, podcasts, location-based news and commercial information.
Media need to combat shrinking print circulation and decreased television viewership. Mobile devices are not the only answer, but the amount of people using them showcases that they cannot be overlooked.
What are local media companies doing?
This data isn’t anything new. Cell phone usage has steadily been on the rise. Steve has been blogging about this for more than a year and the growth was evident well before then. So, have any of the media companies in Central Iowa done anything about it?
The Tribune has a basic mobile website that displays only one photo at the top of the page. The rest of the site is simply a list of recent headlines.
The Register also has a mobile website that operates in a similar fashion to the Ames Tribune. The Register does take it up a notch by allowing readers to sign up for text alerts for various types of news. It has also developed mobile versions of its dining guide and a pothole reporting tool that use the GPS data in your phone to provide content based on your location.
KCCI-TV raises the bar even higher. In addition to a mobile website and text alerts, KCCI has applications for BlackBerrys, iPhones and Android devices. The mobile apps send alerts, provide photos with the article listings and provide weather and business closings.
The main media outlets in the area at least have something available for the mobile devices, but no one is a standout leader. All of these companies are missing an opportunity to form a lasting connection with the age groups that will consume their news in the future. They have failed to become a go-to news source for mobile users in the area. Mobile is here, and companies are already behind if they aren’t utilizing it.
Update: Fixed broken link to KCCI mobile site on Oct. 25