NEW DELHI: India's Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) first released data about TV audiences in rural areas in October 2015 and now, with almost 16 months of measurement to hand, the organisation's CEO has outlined some of the findings.

In an article for The Economic Times, Partho Dasgupta revealed that the latest estimates suggest there are close to 422m individual TV viewers in rural India and nearly half (47%) are younger viewers aged 15 to 40.

"With urban TV penetration slowing down, the next phase of exponential growth is set to come from rural India," he said. "Rural India has made inroads into the total TV viewership and is slated to make a significant impact in the coming years."

Sport is especially popular among rural TV viewers, he noted, with the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and Pro Wrestling League (PWL) getting as much as 65% and 64% of their total viewership from rural India. Even football's Indian Super League (ISL) gets nearly half (49%) of its viewership from rural areas, he added.

"For those investing in growing these leagues and sports as well as broadcasters and advertisers, this data came as quite a shocker," Dasgupta said. "No one had expected these numbers because no one had been measuring rural India viewership so far."

Separately, he revealed that rural TV viewers spend around 3 hours and 10 minutes watching TV each day, and this rises to about 4 hours and 4 minutes in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

And turning to advertising, Dasgupta said BARC has seen a 13% rise in the number of advertisers investing in rural-focused TV channels with Hindi-speaking markets recording the biggest increase.

BARC also observed a "huge spike" across free-to-air (FTA) channels, which now account for 39% of total advertising. Sony Pal, Star Utsav and Zee Anmol are among the channels to have benefited from this trend, Dasgupta added.

The top three categories that have significantly increased their rural TV advertising have been auto tyres (81% growth), direct-to-home service providers (44%) and detergent bars (34%).

Dasgupta also noted that Ponds India, Reckitt Benckiser, Dabur, Godrej Consumer products Ltd, ITC and Nestlé were among the top brands that increased their free commercial time on the top four free-to-air general entertainment channels.

Data sourced from the Economic Times; additional data by Warc staff