#258 Of cluttered websites, pop-up ads, and breaking news!

This blog post contains a comparative study of different news channel websites on their utilisation of browser space to show news content and advertisements. I also try to calculate the most efficient system of showing news and ads on a news website. I have not considered any weights for content, but for browsing experience and irritability.

For people like me, who have lived a long time in hostel, and then as bachelor working guys, having access to a television, is a door-ki-kahaani. India has come a long way from what it was at the beginning of the decade. Regardless of the fact that you don’t have sufficient water, sufficient electricity, sufficient infrastructure, sufficient sanitation and sufficient good food, you would always have a working broadband internet connection. When you move to a hostel, or into a new apartment, the first thing you would venture out to get installed is  a broadband internet connection!

Newspaper gets delivered at the door every morning. The way to open a newspaper is from the back: Sports Page first! after going though a few pages, take a look at the photographs on the first page, and then dump the main newspaper and pull out the Lifestyles supplement… Page 3 people and stars! Hot chics!

Coming back to the point, even after all this, if we want to know what is happening in and around the place we live, the best place to check that out is websites of television news channels. They are comprehensive these days with news text, videos, photographs, polls, blogs, and even sections on sports and celebs! So after opening GMail, Twitter, Facebook and my blog, the next thing I would open on Firefox would be a tab on news!

Till some days back that news tab would be CNN-IBN, a partnership between Network 18  and Turner International. Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN, Rajdeep Sardesai said “With nationwide news gathering capabilities, superior journalistic talent, and a passion for news, the new service will endeavour to get the news first and direct from the ground. In a fast-globalising India, access to CNN’s global news network will add immense value for our audiences”. The television channel is perhaps the best you can get in India. However, the same when seen through the lens of the internet, may not be visible as clearly.

I have used this website for the last two years more regularly than I have had breakfast. It has been extremely helpful to me to stay abreast with happenings in India during my trips abroad. However, lately my experience of reading news and browsing some time around on CNN IBN website has not been so good. Infinite advertisements and flash pop-ups have almost ruined my liking for this news channel. I encountered the following while loading the website:

1) String of flash-based advertisements line up on the right side.
2) A big square box pops up on the screen and takes up almost a fourth of the browser’s website-viewing space.
3) Clicking the [Close X] button on the flash pop-up does not always work. The hotspots are incorrectly defined a lot of times and this leads to you ending up opening the website of the advertiser.
4) Clicking on any news link will take you to a fresh page with that news, plus the same string of advertisements and the same kind of pop-up that takes the same amount of space and blocks your view of the news text.
5) On closing the flash pop-up, if you try scrolling down the page to read more text, and happen to click anywhere in the paragraph, another annoying flash box would pop-up.
6) On every news video, there would be a 30 second advertisement that would run before the video.

Considering the above factors, I wondered if it would be a wise decision to move to another news provider. I know there exist a lot of flash advertisement blockers available for Firefox and some of them are really good. But keeping in mind the fact that 65% of internet users still use Internet Explorer, and out of those a large number use old versions of IE (below IE-7), I thought it would be great to do a quick research.

I decided to calculate the percentage of a browser’s viewing space that news channel websites offer for pure news, for advertisements, for links to other sections or just keep empty as free space. I then took a quick poll amongst my colleagues and also gathered some numbers using Facebook and Twitter, asking people the following question:
”What percent of the screen would you prefer the website devote to NEWS and what percent to ADVERTISEMENTS?”

I selected five news channel websites, 2 Indian (English), 1 Indian (Hindi) and 2 International (English) and visited their websites. I then took snapshots of the browser after complete loading of the websites and printed them. I divided the printout into various sections as shown below and calculated percentage of the total area for each section, for all five websites.

explanation

Some quick calculations later, I found it easy to rank the five websites for the following parameters: Percentage of space allotted to News content, Links to other sections, Graphic ads, Text ads, and free space left. I also checked out if the websites threw pop-ups at the user. The results are in the table below: Rank 1 means maximum points to it!

Website News
Content
Links to
Sections
Graphic
Ads
Text
Ads
Cluttered
Interface*
Pop Up
Ads*
IBN 5 3 1 0 1 Yes
CNN 3 4 4 0 5
BBC 1 5 3 0 4
Aajtak 2 1 5 1 2
NDTV 4 2 2 0 3

* Cluttered Interface and Pop-Up Ads have negative implication on overall score / rank.

From the calculations it was evident that IBN devotes 48% space to advertisements, the next in line NDTV devotes only 28%, whereas Aajtak, surprisingly devotes only 8%! While BBC devotes the maximum space to news content (57%), it gives very little for consolidated links to other sections (10%). The reason for this is that BBC offers widgets on its websites which users can drag, drop, move, remove, add according to their needs and likings. Almost 25 % space on CNN website is blank, and that number for BBC is 21%. IBN and NDTV both have only 5% and 6% free space. IBN is the only website which has pop-ups.

Please note, if there is a pop-up, that much space goes into the calculations as space for advertisements as the news behind it is not visible.

On taking the quick poll to know people’s preferences, I found out that on an average people prefer 80% space for news and related items and 20% space for advertisements. One of my friends also added that advertisements and pop-ups help her to get rid of the monotony offered by the news websites! Below is a pie-chart showing distribution of space as preferred by the sample I chose. pie

Based on the above distribution, I assigned weights to the parameters used in the study. Taking a weighted average of the percentage of space, I calculated an the ideal score. On normalising the individual scores of the five competitors against the ideal score, the final scores read as follows:
Website Score
IBN 48
CNN 79
*BBC* 86
Aajtak 81
NDTV 70
BBC stands out on top with CNN and Aajtak not too far behind. NDTV managed a decent score too, but my favorite IBN was at the bottom of the sea!

newchannel

The above rank is calculated for the “Best news-reading, and browsing experience” and has no weight for the content and context of the news. For the content, IBN would still remain the number ONE website / channel for me. I can just hope the browsing experience gets revamped, and soon!

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Please note: The views expressed above are completely mine. I have nothing against any news agency or company. I sincerely hope, my views, thoughts and study are communicated to the right person. For any details on the method of evaluation, contact me by mail aditya[dot]ee[at]gmail[dot]com. For everything else, please feel free to comment on the blog.

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15 thoughts on “#258 Of cluttered websites, pop-up ads, and breaking news!

  1. Hey Aditya, interesting to read that others are also bothered by this cluttered space offered to readers – I would say by news channel & newspaper websites alike. It is understood that they need to earn revenue as well. Nonetheless there could definitely be some design elements put in place for making a cleaner reading experience?

    So far, among the Indian English newspapers I have found the website of the Hindu (http://www.thehindu.com/) much better than most others – inspite of having advertisements, albeit fewer than, say.. TOI (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/)

  2. would be great to know … if a publisher offered zero ad space would surfers like to pay / subscribe for the content. For example if a news site offered streaming of live news content without the 30sec ad … would there be many takers

    1. I am saying … would sufers prefer a subscription model … with no ads … is the market ready for it … I dont think so

    2. So that point I am making is not about an ad-free website, but the irritation caused by them, when they are put at unwanted places, like popping up at the user’s face.

      I think BBC is doing a great free job, with minimal ads.

    3. Great point. There are users writing us about their experience of various sites, but hope that they realise that the content they are reading has not come for free. There is a price attached to it, and when you ask them to pay the price they shy away!!!

  3. Highly informative and great effort you seem to ve put in. Kudos for that:)

    And I ve always been a ‘print’ person. I read almost 3 National Dailies and ve always stayed away from news channels. Not that I loathe them or something, just that I like ‘news’ in print more :)

    1. Yes the print version is good… just that engineering makes you lazy :) and the internet becomes your best friend! Thanks for appreciating the effort :)

  4. Firefox + Adblock plus works in my case. I dont get any pop ups (I block all pop ups in firefox by configuring the settings). In case of the NDTV example in this blog, I did not get a single ad with Adblock plus enabled. I use timesofindia a lot and I cannot imagine using it without adblock plus.

  5. Cool post .. commend you both for the efforts on the results. I don’t go to Indian sites.. now I know why :) Come to think of it .. actually everytime I go to a site with lots of ad space .. I rarely visit it again.

    1. Thanks Dhananjay for liking the effort! I wish to do something for the quality of news too. Just trying to find ways to quantize it :)

  6. very interesting and informative …i was bugged with ibn’s website too..prolly time to shift to other news sites
    Even on tv ,i found that ibn has the maximum number of ads when compared to other channels. Ibn is available for free on internet and is prolly one of the cheapest channels on tv, so i guess a lot of their revenue comes from ads.

    1. Thanks for the comment Deepthi! For once I thought I would write about that advertising and marketing which generates revenue. But decided to stick only to Browsing Experience :)

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