Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
“Online news consumers in regional languages up to 93 percent depend on YouTube, 88 percent on social media, 82 percent on chat apps, 61 percent on search engines and 45 percent on publisher websites and apps. About 73 percent of consumers prefer hyperlocal news”
The increase in internet consumer base using regional languages to 38 crores by the beginning of 2023 in India and 52 percent reported to assess news online, signifies an emerging chapter in the country’s media landscape. A report published by Kantar-Google in May 2023 indicated that online news consumers in the rural area is above the urban sector with regard to consumption of news online. While 63 percent access online news in rural areas, only 37 percent search for news in urban settings in their own languages.
The popularity of video has increased in the regional language news circulation in the post-pandemic media ecosystem in India. The survey indicates that 81 percent of Bengali and Tamil language consumers prefer news in video format followed by 79 percent in Telugu, 75 percent in Hindi, 72 percent in Gujrati, 70 percent in Malayalam and 60 percent each in Marathi and Kannada. Online news in textual format ranks highest reaching to about 20 percent among Gujarati and Kannada consumers followed by 18 percent among Marathi consumers.
Online news consumers in regional languages up to 93 percent depend on YouTube, 88 percent on social media, 82 percent on chat apps, 61 percent on search engines and 45 percent on publisher websites and apps. About 73 percent of consumers prefer hyperlocal news. The conducive environment resulted in the launch and spread of hyperlocal news apps, both in national and regional markets. Few news apps launched in the pre-pandemic era achieved huge popularity during the pandemic and in the post-pandemic period continue to attract financial investments for further enrichment.
Along with inter-state hyperlocal apps such as ‘Public’ and ‘Way2News’, Moradabad-centric ‘LocalPlay’, Agra-Mathura-Virndavan centric ‘Circle’, three districts in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh based ‘Local’, Uttar Pradesh based ‘Awaz’, Coimbatore centric ‘SimpleCity’ etc. attract the attention of media analysts towards experimentation in hyperlocal short video news apps in regional languages. In the English language apps like ‘DailyHunt’, ‘NewsPoint’, ‘NewDog’, ‘PublicVibe’, and ‘MumbaiLive’ lead the list.
‘Public’ hyperlocal news video app developed by digital short news aggregator ‘InShort’ was launched in 2019. The app is available in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and other languages. Consumers can download and use it free of cost to access geography-specific hyperlocal news. They can integrate their Facebook or Google account at the time of registration for the app to seamlessly access content delivered by the app in their social media profiles.
Mostly events and issues not covered by traditional news platforms are covered by the regional language hyperlocal news apps. Local-level small-time theft, delays in public transport systems such as buses or trains, weather, and cultural and religious programme reports are content for hyperlocal news. Road blockages for various reasons, sports events, environmental problems, construction news and the movement of celebrities are reported as hyperlocal news. Sale of goods and service, employment opportunities, accommodation rentals and listing of public programmes also constitute part of the hyperlocal news. Common people can also put forth their opinion, grievances and appeals on social issues in hyperlocal news platforms.
Hyderabad-based ‘Way2News’ was launched in 2015. It gained popularity in eight regional languages during the post-pandemic period. The short video news app operates in village, Gram Panchyat and district level. It publishes daily e-magazines with content focused on health, trade and commerce, women, agriculture, tourism, real estate, food, employment and children’s literature. Daily astrology and commentary on sports events are also included. Weekend editions of e-magazines cover exclusive materials.
Mobile apps cover a variety of hyperlocal news and the legacy print and television platforms are unable to compete. The emerging trend has created a new chapter in the media ecosystem. Short descriptions of news in video format continue to attract audiences and gain popularity. The Spread of smartphone use during the second decade of the twenty-first century throughout the country is the foremost reason for the communication transformation. In the middle of the decade emergence of Jio decreased data charges to one-tenth of the prevailing rate which resulted in ten-fold increase in data use. It created a suitable environment for the spread of online news in video format.
Mainstream print newspapers and television channels accredit a large number of stringers and freelancers all over the country to gather news. In most of the cases such personnel remain engaged in a profession other than journalism to earn their livelihood. Reporting is considered as a hobby. Whenever a major incident occurs in their locality, the news organizations seek their assistance. News apps developed a model to motivate such grassroots journalists to regularly report hyperlocal developments ignored by their accrediting news outlets. They gather news in video format using smartphones. It was a success.
For example, an established hyperlocal news app publishes about 20 to 25 video news stories for a district every day. Experienced editors based at headquarters regularly contact the grassroots journalists to guide them to construct news stories. The freelancers are paid remuneration between Rs 50 to Rs 250 for a video news report. As a result, the freelancers get encouraged to gather information and shoot videos for the hyperlocal news apps on priority. In many cases, television reporting lay behind the news app coverage. It raises the popularity of hyperlocal news apps among the audience.
Estimates by experts reveal that an established hyperlocal news app’s yearly expenditure stretches to about Rs 40 lakh. Content creation and editing needs experienced networkers. The employment of text and video editors is expensive. In the time of launch, only 13 news workers were engaged in ‘Way2News’, which increased to 300 by 2023.
Hyperlocal news apps in India have not started collecting subscriptions and depend on advertisement revenue. It is being told that in the post-pandemic ‘New Normal’ advertisers are eager to spread advertisements about high-value consumer appliances like automobiles, bikes, refrigerators, air-conditioners, laptops, and smartphones along with FMCG goods in the hyperlocal level. They are preferring to use channels to reach their target audience with less expenditure rather than spending on print newspapers and television channel those charge high advertisement rates and reach to a general audience. In India, digital advertising revenue records an annual growth rate up to 30 percent. But about 80 percent of revenue goes to big tech companies Google and Meta (Publishers of Facebook). In such an environment how much advertisement revenue will be acquired by hyperlocal news apps is questionable. The general elections in 2024 may create a favorable opportunity for the growth of such platforms.
One gets surprised to note that a hyperlocal news app ‘Public’ attracts 40,000 to 50,000 video uploads daily. The app allows users to freely upload short videos in the line of YouTube. Similarly, 7,000 to 8,000 short news videos are uploaded in ‘Way2News’. Users base for ‘Public’ was 80 lakh and ‘Way2News’ was 70 lakh by the middle of 2023. From statistical point of view such hyperlocal news apps definitely have created a new chapter in popular journalism in our country.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on June 9, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-305
It is open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
Khandekar, Vanita Kohli. Investors have a punt as online news goes hyperlocal. Business Standard, Bhubaneswar Edition. February 23, 2023