An extraordinary thing happened with news app downloads at the start of the term of President Joe Biden. The download of the apps, critical to how people with smartphones get news, cycled from traditional apps like CNN to new news aggregators, which mostly pick stories by artificial intelligence programs. Some have been established to take on local news as well as national outlets like CNN.
According to Sensor Tower, a research firm that tracks app downloads and revenue, data from the Apple App Store showed that CNN had the most downloads the day of the inauguration. It was the 41st most downloaded app, which was an increase of 530 spots from the day before. And “The news aggregator News Break was the second highest ranked app of this type on Inauguration Day, rising 13 positions to reach No. 65.” CNN had 27,000 installations on January 20. News Break had 62,000.
The data did not just capture a one-day trend. In 2020, News Break had over 27 million downloads, and SmartNews, another aggregator, had 9 million. For the full year, CNN had 5 million and Fox News had 4 million.
The trend has moved into 2021 as well. Apptopia is another firm that measures app downloads from both the Apple App Store and Google Play, which is installed as part of the Android operating service. News Break was the third most downloaded news app on January 31 in the Apple App store, after Twitter and Reddit, which cannot really be called news apps. SmartNews ranked fourth, and a new entry to the U.S. app business, Opera News, ranked fifth. The New York Times was in 12th place and CNN in 13th. Fox News ranked 15th.
The picture at Google Play was similar. Among “news & magazines,” Opera News ranked first, followed by News Break and SmartNews. CNN was in 12th place and Fox News in 17th.
It is easy to say that the installed based on CNN and Fox may be larger than the newer news apps and therefore they have more market share. This may mean there are fewer people left to download their app products. The fact remains that there is a rotation from traditional news apps to ones that rely on artificial intelligence to bring users an extremely broad array of news, and one that does not lean to one side or the other of the political spectrum.
However, the market share theory may not hold water. Greg Vederman, vice president of Brand Marketing at News Break, commented to 24/7 Wall St. that:
News Break has been the #1-ranked local-news app on App Store and Google Play for years, and interest in the inauguration propelled us even higher in overall store rankings. We believe this reflects our strength at consistently delivering the best content to the right users in the right places across the nation at exactly the right time, as well as the unique local lens through which we deliver national stories.
Among the most notable things about the news aggregation apps is that they do not have traditional newsrooms with large numbers of reporters and editors. On a typical day, a news aggregation user may get national news from a broad array of media, ranging from the Los Angeles Times to The New York Times, CNN and Politico. The newsrooms of these media added together are in the thousands.
Local news can be targeted at the community level, where readers get a local selection that runs from local papers and TV stations to the nearest version of Patch.
The news aggregation app has completely changed the smartphone news consumption landscape, and that shows no sign of slowing.