Ubiquitous smartphones and always on access to umbrella social graphs are suddenly making these sort of tools possible.
And the opportunity is far larger than pick-up basketball, or even sports. Every school is a network, every employer is a network, every bar is a network, every office building is a network, every hobby is a network, every neighborhood is a network, and at an extreme level, every shared interest is a network, regardless of location.
All of these networks share two common characteristics. 1) They are not yet graphed in a mainstream way by Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Jive, or any other dominant, online social service; and 2) They are all mappable with a smartphone.
A Nielsen survey shows that a third of tablet and smartphone owners have downloaded a news app in the past 30 days. In addition, news apps can be very successful at driving deeper engagement with content. For people using NPR apps, for example, there are more pageviews and more return visits than for people using NPR.org.
But for all their success, the benefits of having an app (especially as an engine for capturing new audience) are starting to plateau, because apps are turning out to be most successful for only one segment of your audience. Research is showing that apps attract the particularly loyal segment of your audience who is already consuming a lot more news. In a study of tablet users, Pew found that these “power news users” spend twice as much time consuming news as do browser users. For users who want a daily fix and are proud advocates of stations, apps are the preferred channel.
But of course, stations want to reach a wider audience of casual users as well. And for this larger segment of casual users, mobile-optimized web pages are the preferred way to access your content.