In the run-up to the Legislative Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), technology is playing a big role in the way news is consumed in the state. News organisations and media-house wannabes are racing to launch mobile apps in the state, which goes to polls later this week. And, what is astounding is that some of these apps are getting readied for as less as Rs 20,000 as news companies aim to expand their readership and don’t want to be left behind in the digital race.
Websites such as UPTV, Uttarpradesh.org, Newstrack.com, Diyasandesh.in and Earlynews.in have launched their own Android apps in the past one year. No fewer than 30 news apps dedicated to the state are already available on Google Play Store, boasting downloads anywhere between 5,000 and 100,000 each.
The smartphone has revolutionised the way news is consumed the world over. It is no different in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s largest state by population, where cost-conscious, news-hungry rural consumers are beginning to consume easily accessible and very affordable digital content.
Developers say they work on tight budgets because their newfound media clients are thrifty with the money they spend on technology. “I can develop a simple custom made app for about Rs 20,000 with ready-made templates available on the Web and other platforms,” says Aman Gupta, a Lucknow-based freelance Android-application developer.
But they certainly seem to want the huge audience that technology brings. “Every single news-application owner today stresses the ‘push message’ service as it keeps the audience updated about the latest developments, which then become talking points amongst the young,” says Gupta in an interview with 101reporters.
Beyond push notifications, they send links over Whatsapp broadcast service, share news content on different social media sites and actively engage readers with online polls.
Mohammad Asad, Founder of Orias Web Technologies, says some news organisations want them to make clones of Android apps from digital publications like Scroll and Quint. “While it is good for our industry, developers have to deal with the problem that few media clients understand that apps need to be updated and maintained. They don’t want to spend on maintenance,” adds Asad.
It’s early days yet, but some journalists say the apps are working for them. Says Sanjay Bhatnagar, executive editor of Newstrack.com, “More than half of the traffic is from the mobile app. The free-data plans from some of the biggest telecom players in the market have come as a boon.” Newstrack records about 250,000 unique visitors a month.
This can only get better. Counterpoint Research estimates the smartphone-user base in India has crossed the 300-million mark and continues to grow by 35% year-on-year. The market, ahead of the US and second only to China, is projected to grow to 520 million by 2020.
One big incentive to build an online audience is to attract government advertising. To promote digital media, the Uttar Pradesh government, in its new Web Policy, had announced that portals which get 300,000 clicks or more a month would be eligible to receive government ads.
News organisations have also learnt to tailor news content to suit different age groups, whether it’s sports, politics or entertainment. But it’s difficult to hold onto viewers when everybody’s playing the same game.
Srawan Shukla, the former editor of Bhaskar.com, Uttar Pradesh, says “It’s challenging to maintain a steady viewership base because people uninstall the app when they get irritated by fake news, click-bait headlines and repeated push notifications.”
Saurabh Sharma is a Lucknow based independent journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Updated on February 13, 2017, at 4.25pm to add the column description and banner.
The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India.