Digital has the ability to personalise content for every user: Raju Vanapala, Way2News

Vanapala, Founder, Way2News, on the hyper local news ecosystem in India and how digital technology is reaching even the remotest corners of the country

e4m by Shikha Paliwal
Published: Aug 2, 2019 7:23 AM  | 4 min read

India has an insatiable appetite for news. From television, to print, radio, OTT platforms and even apps, there is an endless stream of options available to the consumers today. But is mainstream media capable of delivering relevant, local news across geographical divides? The solution according to Raju Vanapala, Founder- Way2News, is a hyperlocal news ecosystem that can deliver personalized news to the consumer.

His company launched the short news mobile app around three years ago and is now focusing on reporting local events with the help of digital technology, he explains “If you look at India’s distribution of geographies, we have villages, they are assigned to mandals, and mandals to districts and districts to states. But when it comes to news, whether print or TV, they have only gone till the district level.  Smaller towns are really consuming the internet today, they have a hunger for news, and they only get what is happening in their state and the country. Only print gives 1-2 per cent coverage at mandal level and not much else. Rest is an open area. With digital we can go deep into villages with targeting etc, through our new app we thought it’s a great opportunity to reach out to the true Indian audience in their own language. So, we’ve created a hyper local platform and we are sourcing this content from stringers and also using content from users. So, citizen journalism is working out really well on our platform right now.”

High internet penetration and the increase in the number of smartphone users has helped apps such as Way2News reach their target audience in a personalized way. The app which had around 70 k  daily active users (DAU) three years back now has over 2 mn DAU. In their quest to go hyperlocal they have covered around 350 districts, and out of the 5000 odd tehsils and mandals they have been able to cover 2700.

Stressing on how digital is the only way forward for news organizations to penetrate deep into unchartered territories of the country, he says, “Traditional TV technology will never get into towns because it is a one size fits all kind of a campaign. Digital has the ability to personalize to every user, even the location varies from one user to another. One person may be in a remote location in Uttar Pradesh, one may be in Tamil Nadu. Digital can personalize on the basis of location as well, not only the interests.”

Digital technology, Raju believes, can also help deliver more personalized and relevant advertising through hyperlocal apps, “the advertising model still needs to be cracked, there are so many education institutions available, so many retail shops and businesses available in these towns and they don’t have any avenues to promote their businesses, they have relied on their print classifieds, which are not so effective. I’m sure that the emergence of hyper local news apps can actually solve this for local users."

Infact, not only local businesses but big brands also are looking for deeper penetration into regional markets and hyperlocal platforms can act as a vehicle to the larger brands. Says Raju,“Big brands today are facing numerous challenges to reach out to these audiences, they don’t have destinations available, they are relying on the traditional channels, but those channels are not giving them accurate precision targeting to reach out to the audience."

As for his own platform, their advertising model is still work in progress but context-based advertising is what he believes can work for platforms like these. “We have only started off doing several pilots on the advertising front, we haven’t opened our platform for advertising, only a few weeks back we have started reaching out to advertisers and whatever campaigns we ran so far they are working really well," he says.

Besides news coverage, apps like Way2News have been quite impactful in highlighting local issues of roads, schools etc. and putting them forward to the right authorities. Their band of citizen journalists along with their own reporters with a focus on local region-based content, Raju says, has helped them become “the largest hyperlocal news app in the country today.”

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