News Next 2020: Indians still hesitant to spend online: Pankaj Pachauri, Gonews

At the 9th edition of the News Next Conference, Pankaj Pachauri, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Gonews, spoke about 'Social Media and India's Digital Economy'

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Feb 22, 2020 3:27 PM  | 4 min read
Pankaj Pachauri

What does the digital landscape mean for Indian journalism? Has the advent of social media, backed by smartphones and cheap data plans changed how Indians consume the news? Will print and television continue to dominate or will the digital media change the status quo? Why is the Indian appetite to pay for news so low or is it really?

Answering many questions and also raising them was none other than the stalwart from the media industry Pankaj Pachauri, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Gonews. His venture is India’s first of its kind App-based television news channel and therefore Pachauri was the perfect candidate to hold a session titled “Social Media and India's Digital Economy.”

He started his session by sharing his experience from an event held on social media in Doha which had representation from only two organisations from India. The organisers informed him how the invitees had simply failed to show up. Explained Pachauri, “What is happening in India, especially in the social media sector is that we are becoming very opaque. There is not much transparency. Social media and digital media are accused of being very trivial, entertainment-oriented.”

He then took the audience through a comprehensive presentation of facts and figures that today define digital in the country.

“In India despite such a huge penetration of mobile, we are lagging a bit in terms of mobile phones but not smartphones, we are still at 40% and 35% of people with the smartphones, which works out to nearly 350 or 400 million people, this is a huge number when you are talking in terms of Europe and other countries.”

Elaborating on the state of news channels in India he explained, “For television channels between 2015 to 2018, the growth was about 18%. And all of a sudden, in 2018, the growth dipped to just 1%. So, the number of people watching the news on TV is going down. When I was in television, the total percentage of people watching the news on television was 11%. Today it has come down to 7%.”

The share of English news said Pachauri, had gone down to less than 1% and news in Hindi and other regional languages have become stronger.

Moving on to the ad industry, which is the bread and butter for the media and entertainment sector, he said that consumption of ads was increasing. Talking about AdEx, he added that from Rs 68,000 crore, the projection sees this doubling over the next five years, “So that's a very good growth, which is more than 12% in terms of market.”

Similar to western countries, he explained, India too was showing impressive growth on the digital medium and that it is set to capture the second place, after TV, in terms of ad spends. He added that the largest spends on digital were on social media in India and that it was there for everyone to see.

Speaking about how WhatsApp was being used as the biggest source of information today, he said that even mainstream political parties were using WhatsApp to reach out to millions of people if they want to put out any information. “I was shocked to hear that the number of WhatsApp users have gone ahead of 400 million in India, which is absolutely huge. It's almost like everyone who has a smartphone in India, has WhatsApp.” He said. He outlined how after social, it was Search which attracted major ad spends and that online video too was becoming very big.

To put forward how India was taking the lead in a digital world, he said “India has 1 billion downloads of apps. This is a staggering number”. He, however, added that the organic app downloads were going down, minus nine per cent in one year. He explained how the cost involved in getting people to download apps was huge but big digital-first companies were putting the money to help mobilise downloads.

He said, “India is still a very poor social media economy. And the reason is that our revenue per user is very low.” He elaborated on how that trend was similar for most online businesses.

Talking about the nature of the digital user in India, he said, “Indians are not spending that much money online because they're still doubtful and hesitant about going online and spending money”. Adding that India was still a cash economy and that's why the money on online and social media was not as much as it should be.

“If you look at the change in percentage in digital ad spending, it spiked in 2016 at 110% and now it's down. It will be 20 per cent in 2021. And digital ad spending is increasing, but it's not flying as high as it was initially over 2016.”

Pachauri then summed up his speech by explaining how the real challenge on social media was monetising views and the huge user base, not just for small players but also the big tech giants.

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