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The NRI media consumer

Vanita Kohli- KhandekarHow much does the NRI dominate media consumption in India? Back in 1995 when the net took off globally penetration was poor in India. Most media firms that set up portals did so to catch the NRI (non-resident Indian). By reaching out to him, they could get advertising targeted to him. Rediff.com, one of India’s earliest net players even acquired a portal and two community newspapers in the US to cater to the overseas Indian. Over the years as Indian numbers zoomed, interest in the NRI declined. But he continues to be a strong (and vocal) consumer of Indian news. Anywhere between 20-50 per cent of the traffic on mainstream Indian news sites such as NDTV.com or Manorama.com comes from NRIs.

Paradise
Win-win for media: The Indian living abroad wants to wallow in the past while the one living here is happy to move on. The media industry makes money catering to both.

And resident Indians return the favour. Yahoo-ABC News Network and New York Times Digital were among the top few news sites out of India. These among other findings are part of a new report ‘Rise of India’s digital consumer,’ from US-based analytics firm ComScore.

While the report has loads of data on usage and habits the fun bits are on media consumption. In July 2012 news consumption on the internet grew by a massive 54 per cent over July 2011. Its reach among Indians over 15 years of age was second only to search and social networking, two of the most popular uses of the internet. In all news websites got over 50 million unique visits in July 2012, way over the 32.6 million they got in July 2011.

Going by the list of the most popular news sites it is evident that NRIs are the bigger consumers of language content coming out of India. In typical NRI fashion they want to connect to the language, food, the rituals and the things they left behind. The Indians based here on the other hand take the ‘culture thingy’ for granted. So they are not very hung up on it. And English connects them to the rest of the world.

Where our tastes converged, for some time, was in entertainment. So Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) actually created a new ‘overseas’ territory for Indian films. And Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) opened it up further. For almost a decade after HAHK Hindi films were replete with long wedding and related sequences in order to cash in on the emotional value these had for the dollar paying NRI. When multiplexes took off in India and the market expanded the taste differences between Indians and NRIs started becoming more apparent.

The big hits in India, Dabangg, 3 Idiots or My Name is Khan are still the big hits overseas. But the popular films, the ones that spark fashions, conversations and fire our imaginations, find no takers there. They don’t want the cutting edge Kaminey or Johnny Gaddar, they would rather watch a Parineeta or a Vivah.

Thankfully, unlike the internet, the economics of the film business make it easier to stick to the domestic audience and yet make money. Sure the overseas territory is big, but only for a handful of films. It is its long tail, on the internet where real value could be squeezed. Youtube which showcases many Indian films and TV shows, does 55 million unique visitors from India. My bet is that it gets roughly a similar number of visitors interested in Indian content from overseas.

The English speaking, forward looking Indian, based in India, it seems has less in common with the time warped NRI. The media and entertainment industry however continues to pamper both.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik 

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