Impact of COVID-19 on Consumers of Digital News Platforms

Author: Vivek Pandey, VP, Revenue Strategy & Analytics – Times Internet.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the global disruption of lives, businesses, and business models to unprecedented rates. While several businesses are still analysing the impact of the pandemic on their operations, the revolution of consumer behaviour has emerged as a prime consideration in determining the future of industries altogether. And with no clear resolution in sight, companies are acclimatizing themselves to the shifting realities of the global economy and consumption patterns, at least until a vaccine is discovered. 

Some behavioral changes are now morphing themselves into solid habits, and will definitely outlast the pandemic. A detailed analysis of audience behaviour provides insights into the growing adoption of digital properties because of their location-agnostic accessibility and the availability of time on users’ parts. 

People have scuttled to platforms for information about the virus, lockdown, and its implications on their lives. News has been the primary resource of information since the onset of the infection, with people feeling the need to be continually informed about the evolving situation, and how it affects the world around them. Despite televised news also staging a stable growth in audience, driven by non-prime time tv viewership, online news platforms, particularly trusted premium publishers, witnessed an unprecedented upsurge in visitors indicating today’s consumers are conscious when it comes to information consumption. 

However, for a country that speaks and reads in many languages, having a general overview of digital news platforms might lead to missing out on finer nuances of consumer behaviour.

Business: The segment witnessed the highest growth (51.9%) in March 2020 amongst all categories driven by declining markets and crude oil prices. With people either trying to save their investments or eyeing opportunities to enter the market.

Hindi and Regional: These categories witnessed growth as people scout for local and regional level information related to lockdown rules and the pandemic (such as the number of cases, containment zones, etc. The hindi news category grew by 27.5%, while the regional news category saw a by 24.9% in March 2020. 

English: This is the dominant category for digital news platforms with the most number of users. The audience in this segment is both more tech-savvy and have higher internet penetration. The category grew by 8.9% month-on-month in March 2020.

Source: SimilarWeb. Note: The above categories of online news platforms are customized for the purpose of this article.

Near perfect bell curve

During March 2020, Indians witnessed chaos, panic, and lockdown which spurred the growth of unique visitors (ref. Figure 1) who were looking for information, and following up -on changing lockdown rules and tracking the number of coronavirus cases especially on premium publishing platforms. However, towards the end of April unique visitors returned to the pre-COVID era driven by reduced panic, acceptance of the new normal, and saturation of Covid19 news consumption. Searches around coronavirus gradually evolved from being nationwide to more localized.

To confirm our hypothesis we conducted a detailed search keyword analysis to show the transition in the emotions of panic and acceptance from March to April. Following observations can be drawn related to the three month period (ref. to Fig 2.)

February 2020: Keywords reflect the focus on current affairs such as Budget 2020 and the Delhi elections, reflecting business-as-usual in the pre-COVIDtimes

March 2020: Keywords reflect a stark focus on the coronavirus., consumer emotions entered the ‘panic’ stage due to the sudden and unexpected disruption in lives amid lockdowns

April 2020: Keywords showed a gradual focus transitioning from the coronavirus panic to general current affairs searches. Interestingly coronavirus panic to current affairs. Interestingly, a growing trend of localized news searches can be noticed through keywords such as Bangalore lockdown, Indore news, and Tamil Nadu lockdown. Furthermore, focus on the unfortunate demise of celebrities was also high showing people were still empathetic about their icons, even in these difficult times.

Fig 2. Search keywords analysis for organic traffic

Source: SimilarWeb. Note: The above analysis was conducted on search keywords for TOI websites

A similar trend was also observed at regional levels. Fig 3. provides an insight into the most visited sections of our TOI websites during the pre-lockdown era, lockdown 1.0, and lockdown 2.0. City- sections gained prominence in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan registering itself among the Top 3 sections. The City-sections also continued their steady dominance in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi where it had been among the Top 3, even in the pre-lockdown period.

Fig 3. Top TOI website sections by page visits (for five states with most coronavirus cases) 

Source: Google Analytics. Note: The above analysis was done for the Top 5 states by the number of coronavirus cases in India as of May 13, 2020. Green represents an increase in rank from the previous period, Red represents a decrease in rank from the previous period and grey represents no change. Pre-Lockdown refers from March 11, 2020 to March 24, 2020, Lockdown 1.0 refers from March 25, 2020 to April 14, 2020 and Lockdown 2.0 refers from April 25, 2020 to May 3, 2020. Sections which include a high number of photographs have not been considered in the above dataset for page views analysis.

Since they provide more control and enable their audiences to access information at a time and place convenient to them, digital news platforms are expected to see steady growth in usage in the post-lockdown era, especially as people return to their workplaces Consumers are expected to have a greater relative focus on localized news than in pre-COVID times. Evolving trends indicate higher penetration and adoption of premium digital news platforms as we head into a future that is largely unlike our past.

About the Author

Vivek Pandey

Vivek Pandey heads Growth and Analytics in addition to Sales Strategy & B2B marketing at Times Internet and has more than 15 years’ experience in the Indian IT and Consumer internet space. In his earlier role at Times Internet, he was Head of Product, Marketing & Analytics for the company’s e-commerce platform branded as Indiatimes Shopping, after which he went on to oversee Growth & Analytics for all TIL verticals.

Vivek has earned an MBA from the Indian School of Business and a B.Tech from IIT Kanpur.

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