Key takeaways from the Reuters Institute: India Digital News Report.
Digital news consumption habits of English-speaking Indians
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism recently published a report on a survey of English-speaking Indians with internet access. Their India Digital News Report shows that India is a mobile-first, platform-dominated media environment where search engines, social media, and messaging applications play a key role in how people consume news.
The report presents data around news consumption habits of Indians- the way they access news, levels of audience engagement, the brands they choose to trust, their concerns around disinformation, and the role digital media news will play in the upcoming election. These findings provide publishers with important information about current and future trends in digital media.
Shift to digital news
India is a much more mobile-first online news environment than other developing markets. An estimated 500 million Indians had internet access by June 2018. With mobiles being the main source of web access, digital intermediaries like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are now at the centre of online news distribution. More than half of the survey respondents reported that they get their news from social media, and a quarter identified social media as their main source of online news. It is both a blessing and a curse for publishers. These intermediaries not only provide them with new opportunities to reach wider online audiences, but also compete with them for attention and advertising revenue.
This explosive expansion of mobile web access combined with a steady decline in print readership and advertising have led to publishers experimenting with new and emerging technologies. They are now investing in better websites, new social media and mobile strategies, and the creation and launch of apps.
This shift to digital media has also seen a phenomenon that is unique to India - the Whatsapp Universe. The number of WhatsApp users in India has reportedly doubled from 2017 to 2018. With its rising popularity as a way to share news on a large scale, WhatsApp forwards are one of the major sources of India’s growing online disinformation problems. In late 2018, the Indian government had to formally ask WhatsApp to alter some of its features to restrict the sharing of content.
Despite these reservations, both legacy publishers like The Times of India and digital born publishers like Firstpost and The Quint now provide WhatsApp subscriptions to their publications.
User engagement trends
With the shift to digital media, the feedback loop has become instantaneous. Consumers now have many other opportunities to engage with news online by commenting, sharing, reacting, etc. The levels of participation with news are high in India. It was discovered that respondents are particularly engaged on Facebook, with 69% saying they’ve looked at or clicked on news, 54% have posted or shared news, and 41% have taken part in a group or private discussion about news.
But the survey also showed that people are increasingly concerned about the possible consequences of expressing political views on the internet. These high levels of concern could be attributed to recent events in India. Since 2012, at least 17 people have been arrested for posting material that was considered offensive or threatening to politicians.
Trust in media and concerns over disinformation
Legacy brands like The Times of India and NDTV have both wide online and offline reach as they are highly trusted. The levels of trust in the news that the respondents access are generally low but these brands have emerged as the most trusted ones. Much more so than the newer or digital born brands.
Of the respondents, 57% expressed their concerns about fake news and disinformation. Most of the respondents felt that publishers, platforms, and/or the government should do more to address disinformation problems.
Future trends for publishers to consider
It would be wise for publishers to start experimenting with voice, video content and controlled personalized alerts as there is a growing demand for these in India. Indian publishers have largely relied on advertising revenue. But the market for online advertising is becoming increasingly competitive. Audiences are embracing ad-blocking, and advertisers are opting for the cheap, targeted options provided by large platform companies. Most publishers have been forced to rethink their business models. They are experimenting with subscription-based podcasts, micropayments, and experiences. The future looks bright for publishers as most of the respondents showed a willingness to pay for online news in the future. The only way publishers can reach a significant number of potential subscribers is by putting together a convincing content offering around great journalism that is delivered in a compelling manner.