Mobile Nepal is hooked on YouTube


With 96% of Nepali households now owning mobile phones, the country is fast reaching phone saturation. Of those with the devices, 61.5% have smart phones, and this proportion is expected to spike sharply in coming years.

At present only 26% of Nepalis use the internet on a daily basis, but as more people upgrade to data phones, and to better connectivity and bandwidth, the online population will grow – with implications for society, politics and the e-retail economy.

One of the most important shifts in the past two years has been the explosive growth in YouTube use – up from virtually zero in 2018 to 34% last year, and then almost doubling to 60% in this year’s survey. (See graph, right)

The annual Nepal Media Survey is carried out by Sharecast Initiative, and this year involved 4,830 respondents in 48 districts from all seven provinces in January and February.

Comparing data for the past three years allows us to track changes in the spread and popularity of platforms, devices and apps and also to break down data by province, gender, age, ethnicity, education, or income.

“The most striking revelation in this year’s survey is the surging popularity of the YouTube platform,” explains Madhu Acharya of Sharecast Initiative. “The proliferation of new YouTube channels in Nepal is fed by this voracious demand for videos on mobile devices.”

Still, YouTube has a lot of catching up to do, as nearly nine million Nepalis now have Facebook accounts. The survey showed that 88.7% of respondents were on Facebook. But this was only a marginal increase from last year, which may suggest that the platform is maxing out. Answers to a multiple-choice question revealed that 35.6% are also on Messenger and 7% on WhatsApp, both owned by Facebook.

Sharecast disaggregated the data for Facebook to show that there were more men using it (94%) than women (82%), and more unmarried people on it (94%) than married (87%). The word ‘internet’ is often used synonymously with ‘Facebook’ by Nepalis, and when it comes to the proportion of Facebook users among survey respondents, there is almost no difference between the lowest income bracket (88.5%) and the highest earners (87.9%).

Read also: Nepalis are drifting to digital media, Madhu Acharya and Bhumiraj Chapagain

If this is surprising, so is it that more people in rural areas (88.6%) use Facebook than in the cities (87.5%). Most Nepalis with Facebook accounts are in the 16-44 age group, however the app has a strong user base even among people above 60, (81%) which could have to do with parents’ desires to communicate with grown children studying or working abroad.

There are significant differences in the demographics of Facebook and YouTube users. City-dwellers tend to be on YouTube more (71%) than villagers (48%), and only 22% in Far Western province say they watch videos there (possibly because of lack of bandwidth). Perhaps most surprising is that YouTube channels are most popular among people above 60 -- could it be that older people are clicking on religious programs?

The sustained popularity of the Imo messenger app is possibly due to the large numbers of Nepali workers in West Asia. Breaking down the responses shows that nearly twice as many women said they used Imo than did men, and most of these were from poorer families in rural areas.

Among other apps, despite the apparent popularity of TikTok, only 3% of survey respondents said they used it. Interestingly, the number of women TikTok users was more than double that of men users, and most were unmarried.  Although Twitter posts are quoted often by the mass media, the numbers of its users are still low (1.3%) and while many city-based startups use Instagram for marketing, only 3% of Nepalis are on the platform.

Nepal’s legacy media retains readers despite social-media spread

The results of the Sharecast Initiative Survey 2020 show that the proliferation of mobile internet has put pressure on print and broadcast media, and that although the audience for traditional media has shrunk in the past, it is holding on to its readership for now.

Ninety-six percent of Nepal’s households own at least one mobile device and more than half of those are smart phones. This means that the spread of 4G wireless is bringing millions more Nepalis within reach of mobile data. In fact, the survey shows a surprisingly narrow urban-rural digital divide. The surge in mobile-based internet use is clearly visible in the sharp rise in YouTube users from single digits to 56% in three years.

Nepalis have benefited from instantly available news and easy access to video on pocket devices. The biggest impact of the migration of readers to the internet is on advertising -- as the audience goes online, advertisers are starting to follow the eyeballs.

While only 26% of respondents said they used the internet every day, daily logins are highest among the educated (60+%), and among civil servants (54%). A stark geographical digital divide persists between Bagmati Province (41%) and Far Western Province (6%).

Read also: Survey is wakeup call for Nepal government, Rameshwar Bohara

Some 4,830 respondents in all seven provinces were surveyed by Sharecast Initiative in January and February this year to measure their ownership of communication devices, mass-media consumption patterns, and views on the press. The annual poll also tracks the popularity of radio and television channels and current trends in social-media engagement and internet user habits.

The survey shows a profound proliferation of news and entertainment portals and YouTube channels, with legacy media scrambling to play catch up. Surprisingly, listenership of Nepal’s rural FM radio stations has not decreased, staying at about 28%.

Nearly half the respondents said they relied on FM radio for local news, and interestingly, Facebook was the source of local news for 20% of them. Most people do not have a radio receiver at home anymore, and 90% listen to radio programs on their mobiles.

The total number watching television every day is much higher at 41%, and like with radio this figure has stayed constant for the past three years. Not surprisingly, the numbers watching television daily was twice as high in cities as in villages.

The number of people reading newspapers has actually increased from 6% in 2018 to 9.8% in the latest poll. More men than women read newspapers, and readers tend to live in the cities and belong to a higher income bracket. Sobering fact: 78% of Nepali women say they do not read newspapers at all.

Read also: Nepal's new digital landscape, Sonia Awale

Despite the drift towards the internet, however, the proportion of people who say that they rely on traditional media for national and international news has increased slightly in the past three years. In 2018, 36%, 38% and 4% of respondents said they got their information from radio, television and newspapers/magazines respectively. By 2020, those figures were 45%, 47% and 8%.

Nepalis may follow social-media posts, but only 2% said they trust the information on them. The mainstream press is not seen as credible either, but the level of trust in radio, television and newspaper content is higher than the trust in social media.  The reason most people said they do not read print newspapers and magazines is because these are not available in their localities.


Nepal Media Survey 2020 is a national-level poll and part of an annual effort by Sharecast Initiative Nepal. Field work was carried out between 16 January and 15 February 2020. The total sample size was 4,830, covering 48 districts in all seven provinces. Sampling considered three main factors: geography, ecological region and place of residence. The margin of error is +-1.2% at national aggregate. Interviews were conducted face to face at the interviewee’s residence using the Ona digital data collection tool on GPS-enabled mobiles and tablets. Sharecast used multiple measures for data accuracy and quality. The process was led by Madhu Acharya, Bhumiraj Chapagain, Ramesh Adhikari and Balkrishna Khadka.

Kunda Dixit


Kunda Dixit is the former editor and publisher of Nepali Times. He is the author of 'Dateline Earth: Journalism As If the Planet Mattered' and 'A People War' trilogy of the Nepal conflict. He has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and is Visiting Faculty at New York University (Abu Dhabi Campus).

  • Most read