New Delhi: Piyush Mathur, president of India for Nielsen, was in Delhi to attend the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) India Economic Forum as a speaker on the topic Digital divide: Enablers vs Aspirational. In an interview, Mathur spoke about overcoming the digital divide, enabling Internet in rural India through customized benefits and that the first big digital battle being fought online is e-commerce. Edited Excerpts:

The new government is pursuing the Digital India programme, how soon can we expect the gap between rural and urban areas to get bridged?

In a traditional world you had to connect them by roads, now there are digital highways.

This can happen fairly rapidly I would say but the bigger challenge is adaptability. It’s so much about how they will use it rather than can I get it to them. It’s a lot about understanding their psyche; giving them the right benefits, then they will use it. In 5-10 years, we could be in a fairly good position from where we are now.

We have a 4As framework for rural India—Awareness, Accessibility, Affordability and Adaptability. If you were to apply this framework on rural, you could expand this pie.

Facebook’s and Google’s Indian Language Internet Alliance seem to suggest that going local and regional will drive the next wave of consumers online. Your comments.

We are a 1.25 billion population; about 250 million are connected. There is a billion not connected. In that billion, only one out of 10 know English. So if you want to get more connected, you need vernacular content, that today is not there.

It’ll be very important to get vernacular content online.

One, there is less of it; second, there is no aggregator, which needs to be in the system for this to grow. Third, there is a clear need in the market; if you want to expand this pie beyond the 250 million, you need vernacular content.

Who are the guys fighting the first turf war online for traffic and eyeballs?

It’s e-commerce. The biggest war right now is in e-commerce. Both large and small companies. E-commerce is hot both in terms of advertising, so they are actually spending a lot on digital, it is the number one category in terms of ad spending on digital, and otherwise also as an ecosystem they are evolving rapidly. Followed by the consumer product companies, they are increasingly wanting to go digital in terms of advertising. Whoever stands out in digital, will be more efficient, more targeted is their belief.

What are the three most striking trends across digital media at present?

The number one trend is that accessibility costs are coming down. We could have never imagined a $40 smartphone being available on Flipkart, that’s a big movement forward which will enable a lot of Indian consumers to start accessing technology because it is so much more affordable. Earlier we used to talk about a $100 smartphone, now we are talking $40, so there is an opportunity for people, who couldn’t afford it earlier to get into this category.

The other trend we see is that half of the smartphone users today don’t actually access the Internet, they access it for voice, SMS, etc. That probably is the immediate opportunity.

It’s about getting those 50% on board through benefits, you need to find those segments of people, and develop that ecosystem. It is clear that the ones not using data don’t see benefit in it yet and the opportunity lies in trying to convince them.

Third is about digital advertising—it is still very small, close to $500 million. It’s the third largest medium now after the television and print; it’s number three, so it’s more than radio. Increasingly when I speak to my clients, I get a sense that it’s going to get more and more digital.

It’ll grow much faster than any other medium.

How has digital media impacted consumer behaviour on television, radio and print?

As of now, we don’t see consumption of other media outside of digital coming down. We don't see that. Whether it’ll happen in the future we’ll have to wait and watch. In some other countries, it has started to happen. I don’t think we are at that point yet, but that point may come; we don’t know when. Digital definitely is going to grow. A lot of what we do will move to mobile, there is a pretty good alignment on that. Whether it’s TV content, reading news, the screen can get smaller than what it is right now.

Multi-screen and multi-device consumption is an urban phenomenon, which has emerged. A good indicator of that would be the number of tweets that happen for TV programmes while they are on air—IPL, Comedy Nights with Kapil, etc.

Volume-wise, we are pretty big in the Indian context, with the number of tweets that are happening; so I’m sure this will be a need in the market maybe next year.