One of the key challenges faced during the time of pandemics, such as Covid-19, is effective communication in reaching the underserved. There are two sides to this issue — communicating risk without creating any alarms, and effective communication between persons who manage emergencies. With India in the second phase of Covid-19 lockdown and thousands of migrant workers gathering at Bandra Station in Maharashtra and in Surat, the importance of communication in today’s world is even more acutely felt.
Many people locked within their homes are increasingly opting for new forms of entertainment. Consumer research agencies keep tracking the entertainment preferences of consumers to remain updated on content and medium choices. With increased economic prosperity, India, over the past five years, has witnessed a tremendous growth in TV and smartphone penetration. The eMarketer’s report released in 2019 mentions that an individual spends the largest share of total entertainment time on TV with an average of 2 hours and 55 minutes, while an adult consumer spends on an average of 1 hour and 29 minutes on digital platforms daily.
Imposition of lockdown has resulted in increased TV and OTT viewing time. The BARC India and Nielsen report highlights that users are spending around 12 per cent more time on online streaming platforms during the lockdown period (20 March to 3 April) than they did before (13 January to 2 February). The tracking, however, does not provide disaggregated data by the economic level of the individuals watching the content.
With an increased penetration of smartphones and affordable internet packs, use of digital media/OTT entertainment platforms has also seen a hike among the urban poor. It has reshaped entertainment habits and patterns among this group with a profound impact on access to knowledge, information and entertainment material. This has the potential to make them an important stakeholder in the OTT market.
Previous studies on infectious diseases such as Ebola outbreak and Zika virus underscored the importance of communication to minimise stigmatisation and misinformation, which potentially could further exacerbate the spread and negatively impact health outcomes. Sector experts have highlighted the use of digital technologies during the outbreak response. Communication with friends and relatives can also build the resilience of the community. Using communication tools can help people reach out to those providing relief and assistance. Digital mediums have the potential to disseminate rightful messaging and guidance for behavioural change for combating disease related stigma. Systemic information about usage and choices of digital platforms may help design effective communication strategies for reaching the underserved, especially in the current situation.
Facebook for news
Reach of OTT may have been common knowledge among urban poor, but there is not much research on specific patterns and choices among the urban poor. Recognising this gap, an upcoming study by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) assessed the popularity of OTT among the urban poor in six cities (Delhi, Jaipur, Pune, Coimbatore, Kolkata and Guwahati) of India. A primary household survey among the low-income settlements was undertaken to ascertain the OTT consumption pattern and content choices and preferences among the urban poor.
Eighty per cent of the urban poor owned a smartphone, and 97 per cent used the same to access online media. Across genders, age groups and occupations, digital media consumption remained a popular choice for entertainment. On an average, 3-5 hours are spent over OTT platforms daily while Jio and Airtel were found to be the most used networks. More than 90 per cent recharged their phones spending Rs 100 on a monthly basis.
Subscription-based OTT Platforms are unpopular among this segment. YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook emerged as the three most popular OTT platforms among the urban poor, regardless of age, gender and occupation. While WhatsApp has the highest number of users, YouTube emerges as the most preferred OTT service provider. HotStar, a widely popular platform among the higher income segment in urban areas, is emerging as a new video-based preferred app next to YouTube. The urban poor use WhatsApp as a source of business and sports-related content, while Facebook is used for education-related content and news.
Movies and news are the most viewed content on OTT platforms. Hindi was the preferred language by the majority; however, regional content was in high demand, especially among the older age groups. The odds of a casual labourer watching YouTube for entertainment was seven times more likely than a student. YouTube is a highly preferred platform in Delhi and Jaipur, while Pune and Guwahati have ranked WhatsApp at the top. On the other hand, Facebook is the first choice in Coimbatore. Kolkata preferred WhatsApp and Facebook at par and was low in YouTube viewing. Television, although remains the most popular traditional media, the importance of emerging OTT platforms in communication needs acknowledgement, even among the urban poor.
OTT against rumours
Mass campaign of Swachh Bharat Mission was carried out by the Narendra Modi government through the last five years, which reached all in India across economic strata. The CPR study shows that three out of five people consumed content on cleanliness through OTT platforms. Learning from such communication campaigns can hold the key to enabling behavioural changes for combating Covid-19.
In a pandemic, as scholars have pointed out, the importance of communication for providing the right information increases manifold. Although Facebook and YouTube are providing its users information about the Covid-19 disease, it is also essential to accurate information flow about their rights, provide guidance for frontline workers, disseminating information about food distribution centres and shelter locations for migrants and homeless, among many others. There is an opportunity to leverage OTT platforms to contain rumours in the times of a ‘nationally notified’ disaster.
Anindita Mukherjee is a senior researcher, Pooja Gupta is a communications officer, and Aastha Jain is a research associate at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Views are personal.