The Daily
Famously, Dr Seuss asked his readers how they'd like to eat green eggs and ham.

In a house or a car, he asked. In a tree, a train, a box or a boat?

Much the same question can be asked about the Daily, News Corporation's iPad-only news app, launched this week.

The conventional wisdom is that publications like the Daily will eventually become a straightforward substitute for newspaper reading. For years, we've thought about e-readers in this way. But the reality may be a good deal more complex.

This week, Rupert Murdoch told us that the Daily will be offering not just news, but "information and entertainment" as well. Mischievously, Jonathan Miller, News Corp's digital boss suggested that the Daily will be competing with Angry Birds "at some level". "It's been a big change for the editors," said Miller.

Journalists on the Daily may also need to get used to other things. In particular, they may need to figure out how to compete with television.

Most of the Daily's subscribers are going to read its output at home, curled up in an armchair or lounging around in bed. From the start, "lean-back" reading on a sofa or in bed has been the leading usage scenario for tablet designers and publishers.

Those who take usage research seriously have focused on delivering "immersive" content that differs radically from the Attention Deficit Disorder experience of desktop web surfing. This is one of the reasons why publishers are so interested in the iPad. If readers become deeply immersed in content, publishers assume that they can charge advertisers a lot more money to have their messages in the background.

But let's focus a little less on the "how" of iPad reading, and a little more on the "when". It turns out that iPad consumption patterns differ quite a lot from the way in which we read newspapers. Yet interestingly, they have a lot in common with the way we watch TV.

Newspapers attract a modest slice of our attention throughout the day. According to Ofcom's Communications Market Survey (figure 1.14), there's a noticeable rise in reading between 10pm and midnight, but it is not nearly as as dramatic, or prolonged, as the huge increase in TV viewing that starts much earlier in the evening (around 5pm) and continues until around 1am.

This spike in TV viewing, repeated in our homes every 24 hours, is significant. In the evenings, TV crowds out lots of other kinds of media consumption. Between daytime and primetime, TV's share of our media consumption nearly trebles, rising from 20 per cent to around 55 per cent.

iPad usage mirrors this pattern. Like our televisions, most iPads never leave the home. According to data collected by Read It Later, iPad reading surges slightly between 5am and 7am, running in parallel with a similar surge in TV consumption. Following this, usage levels dawdle along at a low level until 5pm.

Here, at the beginning of prime time, iPad usage experiences a modest surge. Next, at 7pm, usage levels rocket skyward. By 11pm, usage returns to steady state territory. The similarities with newspaper reading patterns are vague. But the similarities with TV viewing are pronounced.

What does this suggest about the Daily, and other iPad-based publishing efforts that are yet to come? The figures suggest that the biggest single commercial opportunity for tablet-based media like the Daily involves stealing viewers from television, rather than newspapers.

It's entirely possible that Rupert Murdoch is already thinking in this way. After modestly suggesting at its launch this week that the Daily could break even by attracting 500,000 subscribers, Murdoch went on to be interviewed by Fox Business News. Here, he proposed an altogether more ambitious vision.

"I want to beat American Idol," said Murdoch. "I really believe that everybody in America who can afford one is going to buy a tablet." Episodes of the most recent series of American Idol – broadcast on News Corp's Fox channels – attracted 25m viewers.

No doubt there's plenty of hyperbole in Murdoch's aspiration. But he is also surely correct when he suggests that tablets will soon become a mass market presence. News Corporation expects 15m Americans – out of a total population of 300m – to be equipped with one by the end of the this year.

Predictably, the Daily's content has been criticised extensively. At Nieman Journalism Lab, for example, Joshua Benton registers surprise at the way in which it runs lots of "short pieces, infographics, and the sort of paragraph-level content that you see in the front-of-book of magazines".

Benton suggests that this feels like "more of a smartphone strategy (quick, of the moment) than a tablet strategy (lean-back, discursive)".

This is one way to look at it. But things look different when you factor in prime-time competition from TV. In the UK, the Daily's natural competitors would include 30-minute middle-brow magazine shows like the One Show and Live From Studio Five. Traditionally, this is early evening programming, slotted in around news bulletins that run between 5.30pm and 7pm.

If you think in these terms, the Daily's mix of paragraph-level content, infographics and video starts to look like an interesting convergence play – one that could steal eyeballs from the small screen that so dominates media consumption in the evening.

Much will depend on when and how the Daily operates through editorial cycle. We know that Apple will push the current edition out to subscribers whenever they go online with their iPads. Updates triggered by breaking news will be transmitted by the Daily during the day. But will the Daily's basic edition be assembled for the am or the pm? Its editors should go with the grain of consumption patterns, pumping out the bulk of their content during the late afternoon and early evening.

In the short term, the Daily could end up reincarnating a format that most of us considered dead and buried: the evening newspaper. In the longer term, the Daily might end up stealing a small, but viable, piece of the action during prime-time.

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