Nepalis are drifting to digital media

Until a few years ago, Nepalis were forced to consume whatever the mainstream media disseminated. Radio, tv and newspapers thought that they knew what their audience wanted and needed.

All this is changing. Nepalis today are increasingly in control of what media content they like. Media preference is now not only dependent on our socio-economic status, age, geographic location or education, but personal choice, context and content.  

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There is now a proliferation of mobile devices, internet connectivity and the choice of new traditional and new media platforms. As this 4th edition of the Nepal Media Survey by Sharecast Initiative shows, the Nepali audience is catching up with the global trend.

 Affordability is no longer an issue for media device ownership. Sixty percent of Nepali household now own tv sets whereas only 28% of households have a functioning radio, as mobile phones are increasingly used as radio receivers. Radio repair shops have converted to mobile maintenance. 

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Access to regular electricity, increased urbanisation, remittance income, as well as the purchase of tv and mobile phones being the first choice of migrant workers are reasons why tv ownership has overtaken radio. A tv set is no longer a status symbol, but is seen as a necessity.  

A surprising 95% of households now own mobile phones (average of 2.5 devices per home) whereas ownership of landline telephone has fallen to only 4%. 

Ownership of media devices is higher among those with better education and jobs, as well as among those with so-called higher caste and ethnic backgrounds. The illiterate, unemployed, daily wage labour, traditional agriculture farmers, Muslim and Tarai Dalit household have lower ownership of any media devices. 

Province 3 and Gandaki Province have about 73% tv ownership at household level whereas the Far west Province has the lowest tv ownership at home. Though Province 2 has the highest mobile phone ownership (96.8%) at household level, only 86.6% of individuals have their own phones. In Gandaki Province mobile ownership is 94.6%.  

The survey shows that tv has the highest device ownership and is the highest accessed mass medium. More than 60% of respondents said they had watched tv in the past six months: 42% watching it daily, while 40% had not watched tv at all in the same period. 

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Television is the key source of national and international news and also tops the list of media for reliability with 32% saying they trust tv content. More than 76% in Province 3 and more than 73% in Gandaki Province access tv regularly, and it is highest among the educated. While 43% in Province 3 and 39% in Gandaki Province prefer tv as the main source for national and international news, only 19% of respondents in the Far west Province prefer tv. 

Tv is regarded as the second preferred source for local news and information at all demographic variables, and radio is still king. 

Among the tv viewers, 91% percent watch during evenings. Surprisingly, 20% of tv viewers never watch Nepali channels, 60% never watch local channels and 27% never watch international channels. 65% watch Nepali channels for up to 2 hours and 61 percent respondents watch international channels for 2 hours or less every day. Among those who watch local channels, only 30% watch local channels for less than 2 hours duration. 

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Half the survey respondents say they have listened to the radio in the past six months, and only 24% listen to it daily. Listenership is highest in Karnali Province with 70%, and the figure is only 40% for Province 2 in the eastern Tarai. Radio is popular in the 16-24 age group, and less so among those 55 and above. Radio is more popular among the more educated.

Radio is the more dominant medium than tv to access local news and information, and the exception again is Province 2 where only 11% access local news from radio.

For national and international news, radio is the second-best choice (23%) compared to tv (29%). Nationwide, more than a quarter say radio is the most reliable medium for news, and the figure was 55% in Karnali Province. 

More than a quarter of respondents found radio the most reliable medium, and that proportion goes up to 55% in Karnali Province and 40% in Far West Province.

Radio listenership spikes up during national events like elections, or natural disasters. It is a go-to medium during crises, but during normal times Nepalis seem to prefer other media that they can access through mobile phones.

Most radio listeners tune in for less than two hours daily, and 56% use mobile phones while 49% use a regular radio receiver. Among listeners, 44% say they tune in to a specific station because the quality of reception is good and 54% of listeners tune in to two news bulletins a day — most of them between 6-9AM. Only 3% of radio users listen to news every hour. 

Newspaper publishers lamenting the loss of readership to digital media may need to heed this survey in which 59% of respondents say they did not read newspapers and magazines because they were not available in their area. 

The circulation and distribution channels of legacy media have remained largely the same whereas political centres have increased from 75 districts to 7 provincial capitals, 77 district headquarters as well as 753 local bodies. 

Among those who read newspapers regularly, 10% did so daily, and 32% of men and only 21% of women read them. Understandably, Province 3 dominates readership with 54% users, followed by 37% in Gandaki Province. Provinces 1 and 2 had the least access to print media. 

Only 19% of rural respondents say they have access to print media whereas more than 54% of city dwellers do so. 

Among those who read newspapers and magazines most read the main news (77%), news headlines only (22%), news about politics (19%), art, culture and entertainment (17%) and 15% regularly read the sports section. Interestingly, 94% of respondents who say they read newspapers do so holding a physical paper. Only 14% who access the print media read newspapers and magazines via mobile apps, and even fewer (6%) visit the home pages of newspapers for content.  

One third of the respondents of the survey have accessed the Internet (Facebook, messenger, IMO and other applications) in the past six months. Among them, 21% use it daily, and 10% a few times a week. Province 3 has the highest usage rate with 48%, and Gandaki Province ranks second with 44%. Only 24% have access to the Net in Province 2.

Of those who use the Internet, 99% browse using mobile devices whereas only 7% use desktops, laptops and tablets. Among Internet users 59% use mobile data whereas only 34% access it with broadband and wifi. Mobile data use is highest in Far west (80%) followed by 76% in Province 2 and 73% in Province 5. 

Largest concentration of broadband users are in Province 3, which includes three metropolitan cities, with over 51%. Rural internet users (72%), and Tarai Dalit (95%) use mobile data. Use of broadband and wifi has direct correlation with economic status, education and smart phone ownership. Among Internet users more than 66% claim to spend 2 hours or less while browsing internet. 

At individual level, 90% of respondents carried a mobile phone, and ownership increases with level of education. Respondents with bachelors and above have 100% mobile phone ownership.  

Our enumerators requested each respondent who carried a mobile phone to take out and show us the type of phone they carried, and 53% had smart phones, and 42% carried feature phones. Respondents who carry IOS device are 2%, and 3% had both smart and feature phone. 

Province 3 has the highest penetration of smart phone devices (65%) whereas Karnali Province has the highest proportion of feature phones (56%). Karnali also has the lowest ownership of smart phone devices (39%). In the 16-24 age group 76% carry smart phone devices, and ownership of feature phones was found to increase along with age. This is the same trend based on level of education.  

Survey administered by Sharecast Initiative Nepal.


  • Radio is the most preferred medium to access local news and information whereas tv is the key source of national and international news. 
  • Occupation, education and caste/ethnicity of Nepali audience determine type of device ownership. 
  • Women lag behind in access to all media.  
  • The 16-24 age group and those with bachelor’s degrees are the heaviest consumers of all types of media.
  • The 55 and above age group and the illiterate have  the least access to media. 
  • Tarai Dalits have the least access to tv, newspapers, Internet, mobile phones and smartphone devices. 
  • Newars have the highest access to all media except radio. 
  • Media saturation is highest in Province 3. 
  • Karnali and the Far West Provinces use radio the most, listeners in Province 2 use it the least.
  • Mobile is least accessed in Province 5, and tv viewership is lowest in province 7. 
  • Trust of media does not depend on size of audience. 

The Method

Nepal Media Survey 2019 is the fourth in a series by the research group Sharecast Initiative Nepal. It was administered in January-February of 2019 through face-to-face interviews among 4,129 respondents in 42 randomly selected districts spread over seven provinces. This sample size produces a +/- 1.52% error margin at 95% confidence interval at the aggregate level. Data was collected using mobile devices with ONA software. Respondents were 18 years or above, residing in the same household for at least 6 months. The five-stage sampling methodology used in this survey includes a primary sampling method to randomly select districts, rural/urban municipalities and wards. The random-walk method was used to identify households and the random-lottery method to identify individual respondents. All data is weighed back to the Nepal Census 2011 to provide a representative picture of Nepali media consumers. Data quality control measures were employed.