Coronavirus Impact: Digital news outlets see growth spurt

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Updated: April 15, 2020 7:51 AM

According to a report, news apps have registered a 41% increase in time spent during the coronavirus disruption period so far

Malayala Manorama’s website has registered a 36% hike in visitors in March over February.Malayala Manorama’s website has registered a 36% hike in visitors in March over February.

News websites and apps have registered a spike both in time spent on the site/app and the number of users visiting the sites to track the latest updates since the coronavirus outbreak in India.

According to a joint study by Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) and Nielsen India, there has been a 41% increase in time spent on news apps. Users spent around 40 minutes per week tracking news on their smartphones in the week of March 28 to April 3, up from 27 minutes in the pre-Covid sample period (January 13-February 2). Overall, the news franchise on smartphones has grown 34%, the report revealed.

Consumption of news on smartphones peaks in the morning and that on smartphones is higher than TV news consumption during the day, the report stated. “Since newspapers are not reaching consumers uniformly, digital and television are the only two sources for consumers to access information. Therefore, digital news consumption has seen huge growth as a result of the lockdown,” observed Niraj Ruparel, head, mobile and emerging technology, GroupM India.

Malayala Manorama’s website has registered a 36% hike in visitors in March over February. “We have recorded 34.5 million unique visitors this month. This is a 76% increase in traffic over last year,” said Varghese Chandy, VP, marketing, advertising sales, Malayala Manorama. A large part of the traffic on the website is triggered by social media posts, whether on Twitter, Facebook or Whatsapp, he added.

Another news website, The News Minute, has registered a similar spike in visitors. “What was unique about the spike due to the coronavirus outbreak is that our website, which mainly caters to news and updates from South India, is seeing a pan-India reach during this period,” said founder and CEO Vignesh Vellore.

Vellore maintained that unlike other news events, where the spike in visitors dies down in about three-four days, news sites are witnessing this spurt for longer as the nation grapples with the coronavirus outbreak.

News aggregators also have been directing users to news websites and apps. Aggregator apps have recorded a 50% increase in time spent on their apps during the period between March 21 and 27, revealed the BARC-Nielsen study.

For instance, the number of downloads of Inshorts has doubled in March over February. In March the news aggregation platform had registered 40,000-50,000 downloads per day, up from 20,000-25,000 downloads per day in February. “Our regional video news app — Public — is growing faster than Inshorts currently. This is because users in smaller towns and cities do not have access to other sources for digital news and prefer video content over text,” said Azhar Iqubal, CEO and co-founder, Inshorts.

Even print publications are leveraging the digital medium for distribution as physical newspaper distribution is yet to take off in some parts of the country. HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, Paytm and Samsung Electronics are some of the companies to have tied up with various national and regional newspapers for digital distribution, including The Indian Express and Financial Express. These companies have been supplying consumers with free copies of the day’s e-paper on e-mail and via mobile apps. Additionally, newspapers that were behind paywalls and required users to register to read e-papers have relaxed these requirements, allowing more people to easily access e-versions online.

Unfortunately, despite the strong readership numbers, advertising spend on these platforms is tepid. “Advertising has been a great casualty,” said Chandy of Malayala Manorama.

“Barely any brands are advertising on our platforms. It is mainly OTT streaming platforms, edutech services and gaming apps that are continuing to advertise during these trying times,” said Iqubal of Inshorts.

Read Also: General news sites and apps recorded a 61% rise in traffic: Comscore Study

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