Battle of the brands: Channel 4 vs ITV

The public's lust for immediate news, and to share and comment on it, has spurred outlets such as Channel 4 and ITV to optimise their sites for mobile and social media users.

Rarely can one news story be summed up in a single article - readers want to go back in time and see how the story has unfolded through many different types of content and analysis. News is also an inherently social subject to share, and users are increasingly discussing and engaging with stories via social media. This is often the first place where people hear about breaking news, meaning social media integration is an important element for any news website.

To examine how news sites are adapting to the mobile environment, Revolution asked Ilicco Elia, head of mobile at agency LBi, to review the mobile strategies of two of the UK's biggest news providers: Channel 4 and ITV. The brands were assessed across 10 areas: mobile web browser, tablet web browser, mobile apps, navigation, social integration, content, video, advertising, brand and design, and localisation.

Both sites were neck-and-neck in areas including mobile and tablet web browser and content, but Channel 4 narrowly emerged as the winner, with its mobile strategy proving to be particularly impressive when it came to social integration and its use of video, such as catch-up on the last seven days of television news shows, as well as clips related to articles. The brand works with agencies Clearleft for user experience and design, and Amido on the technical aspects of blogs, with the remainder of technical work carried out in-house.

Adaptive approach

Neil Wardrop, user experience strategist at Channel 4, says the brand wanted to deliver a site that could be read on a number of devices, including mobile phones, tablets and PCs. 'For this to work, the site had to be adaptive - the benefit of this is that with one site we can deliver the content to our users regardless of the device they may have,' he says. 'For the smallest screen, which is mobile, this meant having a clear idea of which areas of a page to prioritise for the user and to focus on those. For news, we prioritised the top stories on the page, rather than displaying a list of news categories. We also wanted to give a sense of building news stories through the day, so the next area given prominence was "Live from the newsroom".'

He adds that social integration is critical for news sites, where there is a clear user need to share the latest information. 'Many of our users want to contribute and enhance the debate around our topics,' he says. 'Facilitating sharing on sites makes sense for users and benefits a news site, as the content gets shared more widely across social networks. For Channel 4 News, many of the journalists are active on social networks too - it's an important part of what the site stands for.'

Accordingly, the site prominently displays correspondents' comments and aggregates all their blog entries and tweets onto a single page dedicated to each journalist and presenter.

Invaluable source

James Bates, creative director at Clearleft, adds that Twitter has become such an invaluable source for discovering stories, and for the journalists to disseminate them, that the aim was to properly integrate social media into the content strategy of the site. 'Rather than just have them sit in a static Twitter box in the sidebar, individual tweets can now be added to the site by using a hashtag, and these are blended in among the stories themselves,' he says. 'These can then be searched and filtered like any other piece of content.'

ITV unveiled a 24-hour rolling-news site earlier this year, optimised for use on mobiles and tablets, which draws not only from content created by ITV News journalists, but also reflects the conversations that happen around breaking news on other sites and platforms such as Twitter.

It scored higher than Channel 4 for localisation aspects, brand and design and navigation. Jason Mercer, senior product manager for news, sport and weather at ITV, says that when developing the ITV news site, a key challenge was to understand how users engage with news content throughout the day, depending on their location and platform.

'The way we access news content changes over time depending on whether we are travelling to work, at work, on our lunch break or even watching the nightly bulletin and using our mobile as a second-screen experience,' Mercer comments. 'It is important to understand exactly what our users need at these times and to deliver the best possible experience to meet those needs.'

ITV's site development is carried out by agencies Made by Many and Ostmodern. Tom Harding, design director and partner at Made by Many, says being able to navigate the site easily is very important. Two of the agency's focuses for this service, he says, are: 'As a user, I want to know what the world is talking about today; and I want to follow the big stories through the day across devices wherever I am.' He adds: 'The navigation focuses on filtering content - "just show me updates on phone hacking, Syria, the Cup Final... whichever stories I'm interested in". Being able to filter this way means people don't have to navigate off to another page to read content. Everything is in one place with update notifications alerting people to new content.'

Traditional navigation

The site still offers traditional navigation sorted by topics such as money, politics and entertainment, but the focus on these comes second to filtering by the day's current stories, adds Harding. 'Navigating by filtering content is a much more common interaction these days thanks to apps and sites such as Facebook and Twitter,' he says.

Neither site scored highly when it came to the use of mobile apps (and the social integration of both sites lacked the presence of LinkedIn and Google+). Harding says there are no plans, at present, to build dedicated apps for ITV; Clearleft's Bates, however, says that while the previous version of the Channel 4 news site wasn't optimised for mobiles and tablets, the native apps (both iOS and Android) filled that need for users. 'The latest iteration of the Channel4 news site is responsive, so it now arguably offers a similar - if not better- mobile experience than the native apps,' he says. 'As there's an ongoing cost associated with maintaining and updating apps as well as the site, it would seem sensible to not have them essentially offering the same experience. That's not to say apps aren't part of any ongoing strategy, but it seems they're better suited to offering an alternative experience for users.'

Channel 4's Wardrop says apps offer the benefit of better integration with a phone's operating system, as well as distribution on the relevant platform's app store. He adds that the key thing to remember is that not all users are the same - they may have different ways of using an app or site - and brands also need to consider location, assessing where the user will be when using the app and on which type of device.

For news brands building mobile strategies, from a design perspective there is a task to simplify the user experience and prioritise the features most relevant to the audience. Sometimes that means losing some of the content on the page that may otherwise fill space on a PC-oriented website.

As Wardrop outlines, the complexity often comes in the trade-off: delivering a quality content experience around a simplified user experience, while meeting business objectives.

 

Mobile strategy

 

Channel 4

 

ITV

Mobile web browser

A responsive web-designed site that is well-executed, meaning the content fits the size of screen well, no matter which smartphone you use.

8 OUT OF 10

 

Specifically designed mobile site with a very clean, if a little sparse, homepage with a distinct lack of images - which should help with the speed of the site.

8 OUT OF 10

Tablet web browser

The responsive design allows the content to flex and fit the screen size. Designers can ensure the most important/relevant content is presented front and centre.

8 OUT OF 10

 

Desktop site designed with 'fingers' in mind, works without change on tablets and hence provides a familiar layout if you use the site on both types of device.

8 OUT OF 10

Mobile apps

The apps feel a little forgotten - the iPhone app hasn't been updated since January and Android since last November. The in-article video doesn't work (tries to use Flash) but you can read the news offline.

5 OUT OF 10

 

ITV indicates it is 'currently in the process of updating' its mobile apps and so there are none currently available in either the Apple or Android stores.

0 OUT OF 10

Navigation

Clear navigation helps you get a great overview of the news, with the ability to easily filter by topic and region to find related content.

7 OUT OF 10

 

The story-based navigation is a great way to dive into a particular article, helping you to follow the story as it develops.

8 OUT OF 10

Social integration

Standard integration of Twitter and Facebook sharing options. Good to see the number of tweets/likes as an indication of the story's popularity, and the ability to comment. Was hoping to see LinkedIn and Google+.

7 OUT OF 10

 

Again, only standard integration of Twitter and Facebook sharing options. No LinkedIn or Google+ sharing either, and no ability to comment on articles.

5 OUT OF 10

Content

Leads with editorially chosen stories and the ability to filter the content by topic. Excellent breadth of news from around the world with access to the blogs fronted by C4's renowned journalists.

8 OUT OF 10

 

Introduces the concept of aggregating news around specific stories as opposed to topics. The news is UK-focused with ample local coverage from regional teams.

8 OUT OF 10

Video

Catch-up feature for the last seven days of TV news shows, as well as video clips related to the article you are reading.

8 OUT OF 10

 

Video clips are available within the article when available, although coverage seemed to be patchy.

6 OUT OF 10

Advertising

The larger MPU ad formats work well, especially as they can be used/sold across all supported platforms.

7 OUT OF 10

 

ITV uses the standard MMA mobile banner ads at multiple positions on the page.

7 OUT OF 10

Brand and design

Great use of a consistent visual language across all channels (including television).

7 OUT OF 10

 

A clean design language that removes the visual complexities of many news websites.

8 OUT OF 10

Localisation

Channel 4 concentrates on reporting and analysing the bigger news stories from the UK and across the world. This results in there being little regionalisation.

6 OUT OF 10

 

ITV has access to regional news teams that produce localised content. You can filter content by broadcast region.

8 OUT OF 10

OVERALL TOTAL (analysis provided by Ilicco Elia, LBi)

71 OUT OF 100

 

66 OUT OF 10

Summary Channel 4

Channel 4 uses the latest responsive web design techniques to create a news website that works seamlessly across multiple platforms while helping to reduce complexity. The site's content maintains a strong link to the channel's television output by using its online presence and tools to bolster the coverage and add analysis and commentary from its well-known broadcasters - such as Krishnan Guru-Murthy - as well as the public. However, it's a shame that the apps seem to have been neglected - the iPhone app has not been updated since January, while the Android version dates back to November 2011. As with ITV, it is surprising to find the absence of sharing with LinkedIn and Google+, although the popularity ranking of stories according to the number of tweets and likes they have attracted is compelling.

 

Summary: ITV

The ITV mobile news site is a brand new take on how to aggregate news from multiple sources and deliver it to an audience that is increasingly using the web as its main source of news. It removes the visual complexities of many news websites and mirrors its desktop counterpart, to provide a familiar user experience. The site’s major strength is its use of local news content, providing a strong regional focus – and it is in this category of localisation where ITV fares the best against Channel 4 – but with no comment options and only basic Twitter and Facebook sharing options, the site fails to reach its true potential. What’s more, no apps are available for either iOS or Android devices – although one assumes that this is something the channel will look to implement in the near future. 

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