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Raghav Mahto repairs cars for a living. For entertainment, he depends on his Nokia phone that allows him to watch popular music videos and films on Youtube. Mahto lives in Mansoorpur village in the Vaishali district of Bihar which experiences power cuts for five hours a day. Groups of young men huddled around street corners watching music videos on phones is a common sight in Mahto’s village. He’s pleased to have seen Damini, a cult Hindi film of the 90s, on his mobile screen recently.

In Madhya Pradesh’s Chanderi district, Qaiser Jahan Qureshi took to watching videos on her mobile three months ago. She allows her one-year-old son to watch nursery rhymes on the smartphone and is adept at using applications such as Google Play (which allows users to browse and download music, movies, television programmes, magazines, books and applications published through Google) and Youtube. Qureshi teaches in a local school.

People like Mahto and Qureshi are driving consumption of video through Youtube, Video Centre (available on Nokia phones) and other mobile TV applications such as nexGTv and Myplex Now (both of which run on Android).

Incidentally, the use of these apps, which allow users to access free and paid live television channels, videos and movies, is greater in smaller Indian cities than in the metros.

Data from Nielsen Informate Mobile Insights suggests that the penetration of video applications in tier I (population base: 500,000-1 million) and tier II (population base : under 500,000) cities is 53% and 49% respectively, compared with 43% in the metros.

Even for TV-related applications, the reach in tier I and tier II cities is 19% and 25%, respectively, compared with 18% in the metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.

“Consumers in small towns use their smartphones as the only access to the World Wide Web. Consumers, especially youth in these cities, have leapfrogged over the personal computer, and have directly moved on to the personal screen—the smartphone. At Nielsen Informate, our analysis has continuously shown that small town customers are quickly adopting smartphones and are bigger users as compared to their metro cousins," said Prashant Singh, managing director (media), Nielsen India.

Little surprise then that earlier this month, Bharti Airtel Ltd, India’s largest telecom services provider, launched video downloads priced at 1 across India to leverage the burgeoning demand for such apps. The Airtel scheme, being heavily promoted currently, offers affordable video downloads across genres such as movies, lifestyle, music and comedy.

Aircel Ltd slashed download rates by 60% to 200 per gigabyte (GB) last year, besides offering value packs below that rate.

Prompted by the availability of affordable smartphones, limited entertainment options, and demand for entertainment-driven content, middle India is fast catching up on the so-called stay connected revolution. This trend spans the country—from Salem and Madurai in the south to Bihar, Kanpur, Jaipur and even Bengal in the east.

“Video bypasses language barriers, making it a tool for mass connect," said Anupam Vasudev, Aircel chief marketing officer. The company’s most downloaded app is Popkorn Mobile TV, followed by Video Talkies.

“Limited entertainment options in smaller towns force people to do stuff on their own, and with global content accessible on their personal device, mobile becomes their window to the world. With less pressure and a relaxed way of life, these regions consume greater video content as compared to the metros. Fundamentally, growth in smaller towns is happening at a faster pace," added Vasudev.

Shubhodip Pal, chief marketing officer at mobile-phone maker Micromax India, said, “Video applications work much better in tier II, tier III cities as compared to other forms of media due to infrastructure lapses. People are watching the Indian Premiere League on these applications, since cable and satellite isn’t developed in these regions," said Pal.

The Vodafone India spokesperson said smaller towns have fewer entertainment options and mobile is personal and always available.

Neeraj Roy, founder, chief executive and managing director of digital and mobile entertainment company Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, agreed.

“We have found people in Rudrapur (Uttarakhand), Durgapur (West Bengal) downloading video content...because there is power outage for four hours. You see, there are numerous triggers that lead to such consumption patterns. In that environment, the consumer has the luxury of time, unlike here in the metros," said Roy, whose company creates content suited to this market.

“There is a huge demand for multimedia and entertainment in these regions, and mobile for them acts as a personalized consumption tool. Affordability in the smartphone ecosystem is certainly helping out. Mobile also prompts them to share their content among peer groups," said Osama Manzar, founder and director of the Digital Empowerment Foundation, a Delhi-based not-for-profit organization that works to find solutions to bridge the digital divide. He also writes a column for Mint.

Going forward, 2014 will also see investments driven toward video coverage, according to Vasudev of Aircel.

“Once the data tariff plans become as good as voice tariff plans, this ecosystem will grow robustly," said Pal of Micromax.

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