RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Trying to determine what consumers want from online news offerings is the Holy Grail for media companies these days. A new study in the McKinsey Quarterly shows quite clearly that there is no one cup holding a solution.

In a survey of 2,100 consumers, study authors Andre Dua and Liz Hilton Segel found that the audience for digital media is fragmented. To meet a wide diversity of demands from those different group, the authors recommend that media “should segment their digital offerings.”

With consumers opting for “as many as 16 news brands a week,” the authors coined the term “brand promiscuity” and said it is “the norm” for readers, viewers and participants who post or react to blogs.

“We found that consumers rely on a large number of brands: 12 to 16 a week across all five platforms (Exhibit 1). Moreover, respondents reported using many of those brands daily or, in the case of Internet news sites, many times a day,” Dua and Segel wrote. “The reasons given for visiting a number of sources included ‘every news event has at least two sides,’ to ‘get all the facts,’ to ‘form my own opinion,’ or to find specific types of content, such as local news.”

The local angle for digital products is hugely important. It ranked as the top priority for consumers across all seven of the groups that the study sorted respondents into.

TV and the Internet were the most popular platforms.

The groups include citizen readers, news lovers, digital cynics, traditionalists, those who relied on a few main sources, headliners and the uninvolved who aren’t that interested in online news. Top three categories were citizen readers at 18 percent, digital cynics at 18 percent, and news lovers at 15 percent.

Here’s how the study defined some of those groups:

“Citizen readers say that they have a responsibility to stay informed about current events and follow news stories to feel connected to other people in their regions, their countries, and the world,” the authors wrote. “Fully 63 percent of them consider newspaper reading an important ritual passed down by their families.

“By contrast, digital cynics enjoy consuming news much less than other respondents do and feel little responsibility to stay informed. What’s more, nearly half of those in this group say that all news sources are biased, and many report that they trust few news sources to provide accurate information.

“In addition, digital cynics were the most likely respondents to avail themselves of alternative news sources, such as blogs or comedy news programs (The Daily Show, for instance). Digital cynics, like citizen readers, are heavy consumers of TV and the Internet but have more or less abandoned newspapers.”

Based on their findings, the authors recommended creation of “multisource aggregator” sites coupled with blogs and participant-produced videos.

While some companies are moving to embrace such a strategy, the authors said “much closer cooperation among media companies will likely be needed.”

Beyond aggregation, the authors pointed out that the myriad of consumer demands and the flexibility of digital publishing offer an opportunity to satisfy specific groups. An especially lucrative target for such an approach are the cynics.

“[M]edia companies have a significant opportunity to develop niche news products for underserved consumer segments, particularly the digital cynics,” Dua and Segel said. “Citizen readers, the target of most traditional print publications, express high satisfaction with existing news products. But digital cynics, who spend 30 to 40 percent less time each day on news than citizen readers and news lovers do, feel dissatisfied with most offline products. Winning the trust of this group will be challenging, as it requires a fundamentally different editorial sensibility. Given the size of the segment—24 million adults—and the number of advertisers coveting it, the prize could be substantial for those that succeed.”