Akamai – a high-volume web hosting company – has added an interesting new feature to their site, a meter that tracks global news consumption. According to the meter, a peak of 2.025 million visitors per minute downloaded news stories from the various media companies who host servers with Akamai. This, according to the site, is 3% above average news consumption volume.
It’s hard to tell how seriously to take this data as a measure of global news consumption. Of the companies listed by Akamai as data sources, Reuters, NBC and ESPN are certainly high volume news sites; Radio Notre Dame and Courtroom TV don’t generally make my list of major media players. Is this index reflective of overall news reading behavior, or just of the subset of sites hosted by Akamai?
It’s also a little hard to know what to make of the statistics Akamai provides on news consumption in different parts of the world. At the moment, Akamai tells me that 1.65 million Americans are reading news, while only 3,000 Africans, 4,000 Australians and 18,000 people in all of Asia and the Middle East are reading the news. At first glance, this might suggest that news providers should ignore markets in Asia, Africa and Australia as those people clearly aren’t interested in the news.
But let’s unpack for a moment. Akamai’s customerbase appears to be English-language media companies. Chinese, Korean and Arabic-speaking internet users might be downloading lots of news content, just not from the English-language sites Akamai is tracking. (For instance, OhMyNews gets roughly 750,000 visitors a day, none of which Akamai sees… As for Africa, it’s likely that many news consumers are downloading content from BBC, which covers the African continent uncommonly well, rather than from NBC, which rarely covers it at all.
It’s also worth asking the question: what percentage of internet users on a continent are reading news? My experience in roughly a hundred African cybercafes suggest that CNN, BBC, Yahoo! and Google News are enormously popular. It’s possible that Akamai sees only 6,000 internet users in Africa and that two thirds are reading news, while a much smaller percentage of North American net users are visiting news sites. Akamai’s got this data – it would be very interesting to display what percent of total internet users they see from each continent are requesting news content.
(Most geolocation services are extremely bad at identifying net users as being in Africa. While Google autoconfigures itself to recognize that I’m in Germany, Spain or Japan, it generally can’t figure out that I’m in Ghana, Senegal or Kenya. This is because many African nations provision connectivity via satellite from US providers. Most geolocation services show those users as being in the US, or with “location unknown”. So perhaps some of those North American users Akamai sees are African news junkies.)
Even with an imperfect methodology, Akamai’s tool provides interesting food for thought. Let’s just hope that news executives don’t glance at the map and conclude that this is yet another argument to provide less international news coverage.