Chris Krewson

HuffPo vs. The Daily Beast: Leaning forward, leaning back

Posted in iPad, Newspaper, Online video, TV by ckrewson on May 6, 2011

Tina Brown versus Arianna Huffington! It’s tempting to put these two editors in the equivalent of a cage match, as the NYT Mag’s profile of the former implies today:

Ideally, The Beast would mimic the success of The Huffington Post, the Web site that Brown’s friend Arianna Huffington hawked to AOL for $315 million in February. But HuffPo has what The Beast lacks: a tribal identity, one that draws 31 million monthly visitors. With the Newsweek deal, Diller and Brown tethered The Beast to a print landmass — albeit a fairly scorched one — and avoided having to answer the inevitable question of whether The Beast by itself could ever be a viable business.

… but it’s not that simple.

HuffPo is very much like a national newspaper’s Web site (albeit much heavier on the free contributors and aggregation), featuring SEO-optimized headlines, masses of unruly commenters and big, bold story play. I’d wager its traffic follows the normal newspaper com curve – up at 9 AM EST, up again at noon (when the West Coast starts logging on and logging in), down significantly once everyone leaves the office. And that’s the Big Truth about newspaper.coms. People come to them during the workday, when they’re supposed to be, you know… WORKING. So every minute spent commenting on a political story, browsing sites for that “breaking news” headline, looking at photos, etc. is time spent away from full-time jobs. And if you look at the most-viewed lists on these sites, you’ll see just how people are spending this time away from their jobs. This is why time-on-site metrics are dismal so many places; the average amount of time a user spends on these sites is measured in the low minutes.

Its users are in “lean forward” mode. The audience is on the hunt for something. They visit, either through the front door of the homepage or a side door (Google, social media), and they’re gone. We try to keep them around with related stories, if-you-liked-that-you’ll-love-this personalization, or the page-view goldmines that are photo galleries… but they’re after, likely, one thing. And then they’re gone:

The average news reader spends little time on newspaper-owned sites, from a 20 minutes a month or so on the New York Times site to eight to 12 minutes on most local newspaper sites. That’s minutes per month. Those numbers, as tracked by Nielsen and reported monthly by Editor and Publisher, are steady at best, showing, in fact, some recent decline. They are, literally, stuck in time.

The Daily Beast, I think, is after something else. Its stories are longer, its design cleaner and less cluttered. It’s meant to be more of a lean-back experience. That’s an awkward fit in the lean-forward Web world, on the PC your employer is paying for… but on the iPad or tablet, the perfect lean-back medium? It’s something else entirely. Last year, something interesting emerged – traffic coming to Web sites over weekends via iPad wasn’t “normal.” It wasn’t lower – it was HIGHER.

Why is this important?

The iPad is starting to eat into usage of PCs at home. Sales of the iPad are growing by leaps and bounds. Usage of video – another Web goldmine, at least from a revenue potential standpoint – is much higher. And where would you rather advertise – on a Web site people visit for a few minutes a day, in the middle of their work? Or at their leisure, when they’re most receptive to receiving every kind of message? (There’s a reason that prime time TV commands high advertising rates.)

HuffPo is bigger; BeastWeek looks to be trying to succeed at a different kind of metric.

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