How ABC News Drove Mobile Video Engagement On Election Night

ABC News Election NightOn election night, ABC News wanted to engage users with breaking news via its app, but it didn’t want to overwhelm them.

Among its updates, ABC News wanted to point users to video content. For the ABC News mobile app, pre-roll video ads drive the most revenue. Thanks to ABC Unified, which sells TV and digital together, demand for video ads outstrips supply.

And better mobile engagement means more supply to meet that demand.

“One of the core challenges of digital advertising is scale,” said Peter Roybal, head of mobile for ABC News. “If you want to get your message to a burst of people at once, you go to TV. That’s why people have stuck with it.”

Getting that scale on mobile has been a focus since the Disney-owned broadcast news organization relaunched its mobile app last October. ABC News has experimented with how to engage users and drive engagement through push notifications.

For election night, ABC News put its learning into action.

“We started with a piece of user research that people liked push notifications, but they needed to be relevant, timely and not too promotional,” said Roybal. The audience wanted personalized push notifications, but didn’t “want to spend a lot of time setting things up and micromanaging the results.”

Leading up to election night, the mobile app prompted users to opt-in to election night push notifications. Forty-nine percent opted to receive the full flurry of results, which ended up being about 45 messages, while 51% asked for key updates, which averaged about 30 messages. But for that group, the editorial team created 500 distinct messages from which to choose.

Using location data, ABC News personalized the messages so a user received results about their home state. And if someone wanted information about another state, perhaps where they were raised, the user had the option to add alerts.

During election night, the app went into overdrive, sending out a total of 10 million messages using Urban Airship, a mobile marketing company whose services include sending out push notifications for apps.

These push notifications deep-linked to written content as well as live video, important for ABC News.

“We see video as our opportunity in mobile,” Roybal said. “We are a TV network, and video is the core of our identity and brand.”

Users could start watching a concession speech as soon as they swiped through a push notification. Because of these notifications, mobile video impressions were three times as high as they did in 2012. Forty percent of people watched live video streams.

The iOS8 operating system enabled ABC News to add sharing and following features from the home screen. According to Roybal, users love sharing news they get to first, or a reaction to a historic event.

“When you make sharing frictionless, people do it more,” Roybal said. That home-screen feature helped drive downloads of the mobile app during Election Day and beyond.

Changing technology has helped ABC News along in mobile video consumption, which continues to grow.

“Bandwidth and device capability has changed to play video really well,” Roybal said. “It used to be a glitchy mess. Across the board with our apps, we’ve been able to drive scale in video because of the change in technology.”


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