On the Web, Bin Laden News Is Big–But Not as Big as Soccer

No debate that Osama bin Laden’s death is one of the biggest news stories in years.

Except on the Web, where all of our tweeting and reading and live-streaming about it isn’t generating nearly as much traffic as other big events of the last decade.

Here’s a look at the last day of Akamai’s “Net Usage Index For News,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: It tracks interest via page views. Note the spike last night:

Akamai says traffic peaked around midnight, at 4.1 million page views per minute, which sounds like a lot. But it’s not that much–it’s not enough to crack Akamai’s top 10 list, or even its top 14 (the Internet infrastructure company has been tracking this stuff since 2005).

If you want to really make waves on the Internet, it turns out, your best bet is to involve soccer, as four of the top five biggest Web news events did. Sports in general is a good bet–it accounts for seven of the top 14:

The obvious asterisk here is that the bin Laden news broke late on a Sunday night, when a good chunk of the U.S. was headed to bed and most Europeans were presumably fast asleep.

Had this popped on a weekeday, during daylight hours, it’s reasonable to think this would have been much, much bigger. Maybe not soccer big, though.

Magazine Publishers Scramble To Streamline Their App Production

Magazine Apps

Magazine publishers are not only trying to pack more features and content into their apps—they’re also trying to design for an ever-growing variety of devices and formats. The result is wreaking havoc with traditional print production schedules and, in some cases, budgets. And, then there’s the fear that even after all that blood-sweat, advertisers and readers will see the magazine apps as irrelevant.

One executive at a major publisher told me: “We shouldn’t be doing magazine apps. It’s a different format entirely from a print publication. We should be spending the resources to come up with special extensions of the brand.” The source added: “Consider the fact that iTunes doesn’t even have a dedicated ‘magazine section,’ so we’re effectively competing with Angry Birds and Flipboard at the same time.”

Yet despite the hurdles, major publishers are, of course, building apps, and are scrambling to streamline production and technology to make that process easier and cheaper. To get more insight into ways that big publishers are dealing with the new deadlines and formats, I spoke with executives at Time (NYSE: TWX) Inc.‘s Sports Illustrated, Hearst Magazines’ Popular Mechanics and Condé Nast.

Sports Illustrated: On top of developing apps for each of Sports Illustrated’s weekly editions, the Sports Illustrated Group has done about 20 additional apps this year and two books with “enhanced” for iPad editions. Yet the SI Group hasn’t added much in the way of personnel to handle the additional workload—just two new art department staffers, one for tablets and one for print. Executives say rather than adding more people, the key is getting the production routine down.

The major change was scheduling. For a lot of magazines, the work on the iPad version happens when the print version is completed. “For years at SI, we worked a four-day schedule, long days on weekends,” said Bob Kannell, director of operations for the sports and news group at Time Inc. “We’ve had to move the schedule around and so now we have fewer staffers in on, say, a Thursday.”

It has also tried to economize by not producing apps for every different device and screen standard. It is betting on two standards in particular—the iPad, which has a screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio, and the Galaxy, which is 16:9 aspect ratio—and believes that apps produced for those two formats can be scaled to work with other devices. “Designing for 16:9 and 4:3 will save art departments in the long run. If we have to custom tailor each device it would kill us because there are literally more devices than days of the week,” says Chris Hercik, creative director for SI Group.

Popular Mechanics: After its second iPad issue hit the iTunes store in January, Popular Mechanics, a magazine dedicated to figuring out how stuff works, did an analysis of its workflow. Jim Meigs, the magazine’s editor, discovered much to his chagrin that it took an average of five weeks to make a monthly app. He has since whittled that down to under four weeks, matching it with the magazine’s close.

Unlike Sports Illustrated, which uses WoodWing to help create its apps, or Condé Nast, which relies on Adobe’s software, Popular Mechanics does it all in-house. One of the reasons for that is PM articles require as much crafting of blueprints as they do text and images, so Meigs has expanded the number of people in the art department and brought on a “Digital Asset Editor”—a non-print techie who makes sure all the pictures, diagrams and sound files are properly formatted. Also, the same team produces a piece in both its print and digital iterations.

Meigs says it is time to get more adventurous with PM’s apps. The May issue, for example, will contain an article/video game that will illustrate the physics behind landing a spacecraft properly. PM iPad users will be able to design a spacecraft within the app, choose the kind of fuel, and decide whether to use parachutes and retrorockets. They will then attempt to steer the craft to a soft landing—if they fail, they crash. Meigs concedes that the time and cost of creating the videogame feature is disproportionate to what the business model can support over the long term. “We’re not going to do something like this every month, but these are the early days and you have to break ground,” he says, adding: “If we have 10 great items like the videogame feature, we can package and sell it separately as a long-tail item.”

Condé Nast: Along with Time Inc., Condé Nast was preparing for the iPad months in advance. It had been working with Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) on a Flash-based system. But just before Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) debuted the device last year, Apple said that it wouldn’t support Flash. After a quick return to the drawing board, Condé Nast launched Wired in May. The app sold 24,000 downloads of the $4.99 app within 24 hours. Condé Nast, of course, has developed apps for its other titles too. In all, it has had 700,000 digital editions downloaded and approximately 7 million across 22 apps.

Rick Levine, Condé Nast’s VP for Editorial Operations, and Scott Dadich, VP of digital magazine development, have been working on a set of best practices for the company to follow in producing apps. For the most part, editors and their staffs have to take the time to understand how to work on the Adobe platform and get used to imagining different iterations for a particular piece. “The process is what we expected – a bit bumpy at first, but as the editorial and design teams have more digital editions under their belt the process is getting easier,” says Condé Nast editorial director Tom Wallace. Each magazine has its own culture and workflow so there isn’t any one single answer for streamlining the process, he adds. The company is working on better sharing options and enhanced e-commerce tools within the apps.

Some users of Condé Nast’s apps have complained about painfully long downloading times. Wallace says that to make that process more tolerable, the apps will have progressive downloading so that readers will be able to begin reading an issue while the content is being transferred, with priority given to items on the cover.

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The Morning Lowdown 04-19-11

Morning Lowdown

Some of the stories people are talking about this morning:

»  Former Tribune Company shareholders are bracing for a possible barrage of litigation aimed at clawing back more than $8 billion in payouts received in the company’s ill-fated buyout. (WSJ)

»  New Yorker media columnist Ken Auletta, author of best-selling book Googled, fell victim to a common digital crime Monday morning: His Gmail account was hacked. (Adweek)

»  The backlash against Spotify’s changes to its free service appears to be growing by the hour. (FT Tech Hub; check out paidContent UK’s recent coverage of Spotify)

»  Privacy Legislation’s Potential Impact on Online Media (GigaOm)

»  Match.com To Start Screening Members for Sexual Offenses (Mashable)

»  How Flipboard Can Bring App Makers and Publishers Together (RRW)

»  Topix CEO Chris Tolles: Community Over Content (StreetFight)

»  Was RIM’s PlayBook, worth the wait? (Reuters)

»  A second act for ex-Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX) exec Michael Klingensmith and The Star Tribune. (NYT/David Carr)

»  Dan Gillmor: Excited by Experiments by Entrepreneurial Journalists (Dorian Benkoil/Mediashift)


The Morning Lowdown 04-18-11

Morning Lowdown

Some of the stories people are talking about this morning:

»  VH1 Cultivates Its Female Side (WSJ)

»  ‘Robot Journalist’ Out-Writes Human Sports Reporter (NPR)

»  Is Social Media Killing TV? (AdAge)

»  Flipboard: Threat and Opportunity (Monday Note)

»  LivingSocial’s Head of New Business Initiatives Dishes on What’s Next for Daily Deals (eMoney)

»  Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and the TV Industry (Chris Dixon)

»  ABC (NYSE: DIS) News gets into video books with new app (Lost Remote)

»  First Mover Interview: Randall Rothenberg Back at the IAB (Adweek)

»  Three Recommendations for Shifting Advertising to the Next Generation (AdAge)

»  David Carr Discusses New York Times (NYSE: NYT) Documentary (NY Fishbowl)


The Morning Lowdown 04-15-11

Morning Lowdown

Some of the stories people are talking about this morning:

»  Less than three months after Comcast Corp. (NSDQ: CMCSA) took control of NBC Universal, NBCU’s new CEO, Steve Burke, is angling for sports deals and pushing a big shift in how the entertainment company would use them. (WSJ)

»  How much of an effect has the February debut of the long-awaited Verizon iPhone 4 had on Apple’s bottom line? Probably not as big a one as the Verizon iPhone 5. (Digital Daily)

»  Harman Family to Keep Its Stake in Newsweek (NYT)

»  Vadim Lavrusik leaves Mashable to become Journalism Program Manager at Facebook. (CNN)

»  Well-Meaning “Privacy Bill of Rights” Wouldn’t Stop Online Tracking. (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

»  The newsonomics of the digital cafeteria. (Ken Doctor/Nieman Lab)

»  Who Is More Trust-Worthy with Our Data: The Government or Big Companies? (Techcrunch)

»  Why You Might Choose to Be in Favor of Transparency (Seth Godin)


Cricket’s World Cup Was Huge For Mobile Media

Cricket ball

The mobile is already the computer in many markets, it seems. In some of the countries where cricket is most popular, the recent ICC Cricket World Cup was consumed more on mobile than on PC internet.

ESPN (NYSE: DIS) says the mobile version of its ESPNcricinfo site accounted for 45 percent (45 million) of all the brand’s page views during the April 2 final, in which India beat Pakistan. That’s the highest share of any of the digital media through which ESPN covered the sport, and doesn’t even include the app versions of ESPNcricinfo.

It’s significant that mobile use outweighed desktop use. ESPN claims ESPNcricinfo’s mobile site took 63.6 percent of the global mobile audience in its industry segment - far outweighing the 36.1 percent share ESPNcricinfo claims it took in the desktop web market.

That effect came from Indians, who supplied the largest slice of mobile traffic to ESPNcricinfo (377.3 million page views through the tournament). There are around 700 million mobile phones in use in India - nearly the entire population of 1.15 billion. Many of the handsets are unsophisticated, but broadcasters nevertheless supply subscription audio content. In neighbouring Pakistan, BBC Urdu offered five, two-minute World Cup audio reports every hour for on-demand listening by dial-up during the competition.

July Systems, an LA-based mobile web infrastructure vendor which was contracted by ESPN, SuperSport and other proprietors during the tournament, says it served 74 million mobile page views globally during the final game, over Amazon’s Web Services system.

But, though the region reflected starkly in ESPN’s stats during the tournament, the overall audience for ESPNcricinfo’s mobile site remains small in an all-media context, setting a March 30 record of 1.9 million visitors, compared with 6.5 million on desktop that same day.

The takeaway must be that mobile users kept generating page views by refreshing, but desktop still had more actual unique users.


Red Eye Crew Debate Whether George Allen’s ‘Sports Banter’ Makes Him A ‘Casual Racist’

Former Virginia governor George Allen may be most famous for once calling an Indian American “macaca” on the campaign trail, but now he’s making news again for repeatedly asking a black NBC reporter what “position” he played, continually forgetting he didn’t play a sport at all. The Red Eye panel was somewhat torn on what to make of this– was Allen, now a Senate hopeful, a “casual racist,” or a “shitty conversationalist”?

Host Greg Gutfeld appeared initially unconvinced that Allen was a racist particularly– after all, sports banter had done so much to strengthen his relationship with Andy Levy. But panelist John DeVore disagreed, calling him a “nice, casual racist”– the kind that assumes you like basketball because you’re dating a black person, but doesn’t necessarily actively think of minorities as inferior. He later described him as an “uncle” type that had had a few beers, though Levy later thwarted his theory with a tweet from a white reporter who chimed in that, for what it’s worth, Allen constantly asks him about sports, too. “Racism solved!” DeVore exclaimed.

Gutfeld got more support from Remi Stern, who argued the sports talked was “like a bad second date where the person doesn’t remember anything he asked on the first date,” and agreed with Gutfeld that NBC reporter Craig Melvin’s decision to confront Allen over Twitter and not in person was in poor taste.

Meanwhile, there was an entirely different genre of objection to Allen’s comments to be explored. Panelist Jesse Joyce just objected to Allen as a “shitty conversationalist”– “nobody cares about sports questions… do you really want to hear his little league conquests?” He instead suggested more interesting topics to ask during small talk, like “what medicines he takes” or airport security experiences.

The discussion via Fox News below: