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WAN-IFRA 2009: ‘Digital divide is both a task and a boon’

03-December-2009
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WAN-IFRA 2009: ‘Digital divide is both a task and a boon’

While the far advanced countries of the West and also the EU often tom-tom about the emergence of digital as the next big wave, there are the Third World and less advanced countries that are continuously hounded by the disparity – whether to join the digital bandwagon with a bang and what to do with the digital divide currently hampering the sector?

These and other issues surrounding digital were taken up by the panelists in the session on ‘Bridging the digital divide: the experience of emerging countries’ on day 3 of WAN-IFRA 2009. The panelists comprised Rajesh Kalra, Editor-in-chief, Times Internet, TOI; Abhijit Majumder, Executive Editor, Mid-Day, India and Walter de Mattos, Editor-in-chief, Lance Group, Brazil. The session was moderated by Stephen Quinn, Professor from Deakin University, Australia.

Stephen Quinn began by stating that “The next four-five years would see China becoming the No 1 country in the world for internet penetration followed by India and Brazil. Similar trends would be observed on the mobile, which speaks of the scope of the two mediums in time to come.”

Rajesh Kalra was straightforward when he said that digital divide does exist in India. “When you have IT penetration levels of only 3 per cent and the use of internet is largely limited to English language, it speaks of the divide that stares us in the face. But the divide can be bridged by regional press who can take to the web in a bigger way, and by leveraging the fast growing mobile services market– push and pull. Google and Microsoft have realised the lacunae and are coming up with local versions of news websites to address the problem.”

Walter de Mattos began by providing a digital overview of the Brazilian market. “The Brazilian market today is the fourth largest for web and the fifth largest for mobile. There are 165 million users of mobile and 65 million users of web, and the numbers are growing everyday.” Mattos cited sports as an avenue that is attracting the users as well as advertisers to the Brazilian web market in large numbers. “Sports is a fast-growing industry and is a big audience driver. It has an active reach of 50 per cent with football occupying the top slot followed by F1. Overall, the sports audience on the web has grown by almost 70 per cent,” he said.

Abhijit Majumder commented, “Top 3 of the world’s 10 richest people are from India, but at the same time there are people over here who live on just raw green grass. You can similarly compare the levels of digital divide that India as a country is facing apart from the several other divides.” But then there is also a plus side to the situation including that “new technologies are being launched everyday, there are more than eight major players in the space who are uplifting the medium and there are 17 million children in schools across India who are exposed to the computer. The future is thus very promising.”

Majumder spoke of his own site Mid-day.com that was undergoing a rethinking itself last year to boost its performance. After interaction with the users, the owners realised that the users were looking for a product that reflected the true representation of the daily and not be an imitation of the peers from the market. “The YUMPI crowd were attracted by our content as we were catering to their needs during their working hours – 10 am-8 pm (virgin zone). While everybody else focused on the morning and night slots, we remained focused on the virgin zone and the results are for all to se. The number of users on our site stands at 10 millïon with the revenues too increasing ten-fold.”

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