Benita Chacko

Digital video news platforms gain viewership share during elections 2024

News, be it digital streams of linear TV channels or independent websites, grabbed most eyeballs and visits on June 4.

On June 4, 2024, India was captivated as it witnessed the unfolding results of the world's largest general election. As political parties tracked their wins and losses, news media organisations experienced unprecedented viewer engagement, with audiences riveted by the edge-of-the-seat political drama. The tough fight between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) kept all eyes glued to the news. As a result, digital viewing of news, not just of digital streams of linear television channels, but also independent news portals, saw a significant spike. 

While established linear television channels made the most of the opportunity by providing coverage in all the key consumer touch points, independent media platforms also emerged as winners. New media platforms like deKoder, Beatroot, and Newslaundry engaged viewers through its live and comprehensive coverage. 

For example, Prannoy and Radhika Roy’s deKoder, which launched in January and its website and app went live in May was among the most watched digital news platforms on counting day. Its coverage of the results went live on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and its website.

Tara Roy, director, deKoder Digital, said the watch time on digital is around 8-10 minutes as compared to around 2-3 minutes on TV.

“Users tend to engage more on phones, iPads, or other devices rather than sitting down to watch TV. We observed significantly more activity and longer engagement times on digital. This was surprising, especially given our lesser-known status and lack of a traditional TV channel, yet digital engagement was much higher,” she says. 

Media experts share that digital viewership witnessed a significant spike on Counting Day and is on a fast-growing track. However, this growth in viewership is not at the cost of traditional TV viewing. 

Ashish Bhasin, founder, The Bhasin Consulting Group, says, while digital viewership has grown faster than TV, both mediums have expanded their audiences considerably during this period, reflecting a substantial overall increase in viewership. TV viewership remains strong, particularly when people are at home. However, digital viewership has become increasingly important, especially when people are on the move. 

“This period has been notable for a variety of reasons. Starting with the exit polls and continuing through to the final election results, there has been immense public interest. This was paralleled by dramatic fluctuations in the stock market, driving people to consume content with great curiosity. Viewers wanted to stay informed about both the political situation and stock market developments, given the substantial minute-to-minute changes. As a result, both TV and digital platforms have seen significant growth,” he says.

Digital video news platforms gain viewership share during elections 2024

As television viewership numbers are not available yet, it is difficult to peg the growth rate. However, based on previous trends, Bhasin estimates that the combined viewership for digital and TV has increased by approximately 20-25%.

“This election has blurred the lines between digital and linear TV more rapidly than before. Consumers now seamlessly transition between mediums, watching TV at home and switching to digital on the go. This shift highlights the changing landscape of content consumption, driven by the need for convenience and variety,” he says.

Sunil Nair, co-founder of Mela Platforms, asserts that we are witnessing a seismic shift in terms of our news consumption habits. The recent election results coverage has highlighted that traditional mainstream media, once the go-to source for news, has lost ground to digital-first platforms.

“Jio caused a revolution eight years ago and we are seeing the results of it in the news media now. Everyone has access to the internet on their mobile phones and they are consuming news there. The youngsters are not watching news on traditional television anymore,” he says.

Digital video news platforms gain viewership share during elections 2024

Bhasin points out that the surge in digital news viewership has been driven by the broader trend of increased digital consumption, spurred by significant growth in internet access since the previous election.

“Firstly, the number of people with internet access has grown substantially in the past five years. Secondly, younger viewers have shifted more towards digital platforms. Thirdly, this particular election generated high interest and excitement, with its multiple phases and significant build-up. The discrepancies between exit polls and actual results also fueled curiosity. All these factors combined to drive up overall viewership, with digital platforms benefiting the most from the expanded digital audience,” he says.

Most of the prominent news networks in India, including Times Network, ABP, India Today, NDTV, News18, and Zee, stream their television programming on digital platforms like their website and social media handles. Most have also established Free Ad-Supported Streaming Television (FAST) channels. The same linear television feed is streamed on these digital channels and the networks do not have to incur additional production costs to run these channels. These channels also became a preferred destination to consume news on Counting Day, especially for cord-cutters who do not have access to linear television.

For brands, it is a great opportunity to reach both the television and digital audience. The channels monetise both mediums separately. The news channels that usually fight about their leadership status using BARC data have now started flaunting their YouTube data to attract these advertisers. NDTV 24X7, in a mailer, said its concurrent viewership was at 94k "in the most decisive hours of the General Elections Counting Day". Aaj Tak, in its mailer, claims to have won 'absolute majority' with 56% share of concurrent users.

"Linear television attracts heavy and medium viewers. Light TV viewers, often cord-nevers or cord-cutters, are on other formats. Adding these viewers to linear TV creates a comprehensive TV plan, offering huge incremental reach. These additional streams behave very similarly to traditional TV viewers," says a media expert, on condition of anonymity.

Digital video news platforms gain viewership share during elections 2024

Viewers watching a certain linear TV channel will continue to watch the same on their streaming device. This differs from entertainment, where a viewer might switch to a different OTT platform. In entertainment, this doesn't provide incremental reach, and brands haven't become omni-platform. 

“However, with live events, there's a cross-transfer of audience, providing incremental reach and transferring brand loyalty across platforms. News channels have successfully leveraged this, maintaining their top position across TV, digital, and social platforms. This holistic approach works very well for them,” the expert adds.

As these channels are starting from a very small base, their growth is rapid. However, Bhasin says it doesn't yet move the needle significantly. As a result, advertisers are yet to move a significant amount of its ad spends there. 

“Elections have universal appeal, attracting interest from all demographics and regions, unlike niche events. Major TV channels and digital platforms with wide reach benefit the most from this broad interest. People no longer watch just one channel or stick to one medium. They switch between channels and platforms based on their needs. This behaviour is especially common among younger viewers, who consume content based on convenience rather than a broadcaster's schedule,” he says.

Nair, who has worked with both digital and broadcast media in the past, says traditional television has become biassed in its narrative. As a result, viewers are choosing to consume more independent media. “Also people can consume it on the go. This generation is digital-first and video-first,” he says.

Bhasin says while smaller and newer channels may have grown during the election period, their viewership remains relatively small compared to mainstream TV channels and major digital platforms. The largest viewership numbers still come from established linear television channels and their digital counterparts.

“Reliable content will always have a strong future because people consume content, not specific channels or platforms. Quality content that resonates with or builds trust among viewers will benefit the most. While growth is evident among newer players, the majority of viewership continues to be dominated by established players, both in the digital and linear TV space,” he says.

While many of these independent websites received support from advertisers, it was not as overwhelming as it is for traditional television channels. While this may be a delight for viewers as they can enjoy clutter-free content, it raises concerns about revenue for these platforms. In terms of revenue, experts suggest that television has far outdone the digital medium. 

Nair says advertisers may take another three to four years to make the digital switch. “Traditional media buyers are usually a little slow at reflecting the change. Digital advertising is already overtaking television in terms of measurement and other metrics. It won’t be long before digital news platforms will also benefit from it,” he says.

For example, deKoder did not have any ad breaks during its live coverage and had only one advertiser, Darwin, for its side panel.

Roy explains, “This time, we didn't go all out with ad selling because the digital space demands consistent content and we didn't have many subscribers or viewers since we hadn't put out much content. Digital requires daily content output to build an audience. Given this, we only reached out to a few contacts within our personal circle. From these limited efforts, we secured one sponsor, whose logo was featured, but it wasn't tied to ad breaks.”

However, she says that after the counting day coverage, many advertisers have reached out. “We have plans to create branded content and special campaigns,” she says.

The excitement of the election season has not ended with the declaration of results. With the alliances forming and the government to take oath in the coming days, news channels are expecting viewership to remain high for sometime. 

"After so long we have been able to build brands purely on news. There is a lot of interest in the news and it hasn’t not died with the counting day. It will carry on for another 15-20 days," the media expert says.

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