Rural market has emerged as a new growth frontier for M&E: Avinash Pandey

Rural India has become a major market for Digital today. According to a IAMAI-Nielsen report, there were 227 million active Internet users in rural areas as of November 2019, which is 10 per cent more than around 205 million users in urban areas. The burgeoning numbers present a great impetus for digital brands to strengthen their foothold in rural markets.

In an interaction with Adgully, Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network, deciphers the endless possibilities for brands to invest in and how brands and marketers can leverage this booming reach.

How do you see Rural India becoming a catalyst of the digital economy of India?

In rural areas, Internet penetration stands at a staggering 32 per cent, while the national average is 40 per cent.

Over the years, the number of Internet users has increased in rural India by dint of digital India initiatives, easy accessibility, affordable data, e-commerce permeating socio-economic layers, and so on. These key enablers have influenced a massive shift towards a new power-consumer group, which is rapidly becoming a catalyst of the digital economy of India. And this powerful group surely has an excellent room for manoeuvre – rife with opportunities and endless possibilities for brands to invest in. 

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, how can digital become the platform for brands to engage with consumers in Rural India?

At present, as we find ourselves muddled in an unparalleled crisis, Content Consumption – whether on digital or otherwise – has become a ‘safe escape’ for people all across the world. And as the pandemic stretches its tentacles wider and deeper, this content is alleviating their tension and anxiety.

The digital consumption of Internet users – both urban & rural – has seen a steep rise during these times. News platforms have emerged as the biggest beneficiaries of this unprecedented surge as they continue to churn out new content for viewers while keeping them apprised 24x7. That being said, this is the time for brands and marketers to leverage this booming reach and gain a strong foothold in the rural markets. It is an ideal opportunity to recalibrate their strategies to build social and emotive brand connect, especially via video content. 

Accordingly to Internet experts, in the pre-COVID-19 times, 65 per cent of the total video viewership came from rural India, which constituted 40 per cent of the total Internet user-base. With an unprecedented surge in news consumption over the Internet, viewership in rural India is bound to grow. A considerable share of the Internet audience that was previously relying on traditional mediums for news is now sampling news on smartphones.

What are the implications of the growing Internet users in rural for the entertainment & communications sectors?

Over the last few years, the rural market has emerged as a new growth frontier for the M&E sector. Both the news genre and GECs have been focusing on expanding their existing bouquet of regional channels, with an aim to build associations with newer audiences. 

During the COVID-19 period, a similar trajectory has been witnessed, with broadcasters embracing the regional growth story as viewership continues to soar. In fact, ABP News Network’s (ANN) digital platform garnered a whopping 15.7 billion impressions in March (Source: YouTube Analytics), which substantiates this burgeoning preference.

ANN also saw a 62 per cent surge in Facebook engagements in March. This indicates how the new user-base is not only consuming a lot of content, but also engaging with brands and publishers on social networks.

In what ways do brands need to leverage local languages and video to tap the rural consumer base?

The bandwidth of video streaming services has increased massively. According to the BARC-Nielsen Report, video streaming is one of the most preferred activities on smartphones, with a 15 per cent share of time spent. What’s more is that ANN has witnessed record-breaking viewership in March 2020, with 1.5 billion views on YouTube (Source: YouTube Analytics). 

Hence, video is an excellent medium for brands to engage with, to outperform the market scenario of COVID-19. In fact, some FMCG companies have already initiated interesting and engaging brand messages to connect with rural populations that only have basic handsets. 

Brands that are looking for sustainable growth opportunities need to focus on local penetration and devote their resources to these markets to accomplish their growth pursuits. The road ahead is undefined, but as we navigate through it, maintaining the same brand equity in the minds of the consumers is very critical. 


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