by Sunil Kamath
In the 21st century, the basic utilities of roti, kapda and makaan is followed by internet. It is the fourth basic utility fast gaining prominence in our daily lives. Right from booking a movie ticket to finding a date to reading horoscopes and daily news, the Internet helps us do everything under the sun. It has become a part of our lives to the extent that we cannot deny that it has become a basic right. But, if the Internet is a basic right, why are 824 million Indians still unconnected and haven’t experienced the boons of Internet yet? The answer to this is a simple question. Is the Internet providing them what they need? No.
India and regional content
India is a land with diversity in culture. People across the nation dress differently, celebrate different festivals and speak more than a thousand languages in all. When the populace is so diverse, the question is, can one language connect them all? According to a report, only 1% of existing internet users communicate in English, 39% users communicate in Hindi while an overwhelming 60% users converse in their mother tongue. Interestingly, while regional languages dominate the country, English remains the language of internet in India. As the country’s regional language-speaking users logging onto the Internet, content providers must take their language preferences into account.
Local app developers boosting vernacular content
While the appetite for regional content consumption is huge, there is not much vernacular content available on the Internet. This is because, while the non-English users are consuming whatever local content is available, content creation has yet not become a phenomenon amongst the regional language users. According to a study conducted by IAMAI and IMRB International, regional content availability can boost the growth of Internet in India by 24%. There are more than 70,000 newspapers in print in India, and approx. 90% of them are either printed in Hindi or other vernacular languages. Realising this potential, Indian app developers are recognising the need for localised content on mobile apps.
There is an innate desire in every individual to connect with people of their community and learn of local happenings. Being at the forefront of vernacular social media revolution, at ShareChat, we understand that this audience is very different from the English Internet users. As a regional language-based UGC social media platform available in 14 Indic languages, we have observed that a person residing in Kerala or Gujarat or Andhra Pradesh wants to consume information on events and about incidents happening around them in their local language. Whether it is city news, memes, music, films, celebrity updates, they want content they can relate to. We have seen many exciting content trends that has emerged by engaging with our 20mn monthly users. Spanning across 25 content genres including greetings, festival celebrations, love and romance, humour, politics and local government initiatives, these content have seen amazing virality on our platform. There is a huge appetite for infotainment content.
With reduced data-pack prices, we have seen remarkable growth in video content especially short video formats and we see that regional video content is the growing trend in content consumption.
Need to localise content for mass adoption
When it comes to offerings and services, the regional language-speaking population need help in booking tickets, paying bills, and online shopping or trading. This huge demand coming from regional language-speaking population has recently led companies and governments to make changes in how they offer their services. For example, the Indian Railways has made ticket booking possible in Hindi. Recently, the Oxford University Press introduced online dictionaries in Tamil and Gujarati. Many e-commerce, retail, fintech and other industries are adding vernacular variants to their existing portals.
Pacing up vernacular content by building an ecosystem
The growth in the regional content is also opening up new avenues for advertisers. But, it is essential to understand that this audience might not be accessing popular mobile apps in English. There is a need for the mobile ecosystem to be available in local languages: this includes the mobile Operating System, OEMs and other app capabilities. On one hand, while OS developers can simplify for users to choose their preferred languages on their OS, OEMs can make their handsets more intuitive and allow users to easily switch languages within the handset and contribute to the vernacular content growth.
New avenue for marketers and birth of local influencers
Regional language internet users are an altogether separate subset of users. When it comes to marketing your products/services to them, they cannot replicate the strategy applied for English internet users. They have to take a step back, rebuild, rethink and reinvent the mode of communication that will help them reach the mass audience. A native ad banner might not be the best technique. Therefore, marketers are experimenting with local influencers to reach the masses in a language their audience is comfortable with.
One such recent trend we have observed, is the growth of mobile gaming amongst regional language users. The market is growing by leaps and bounds and having nearly-saturated the urban market, the marketers are eyeing the regional language pie next. They are reaching out to influencers on local social media platforms to promote their games in local languages. This is just the beginning of regional influencer marketing and it has a long way to go.
Affordable smartphones, cheaper data have no doubt led to increase in internet penetration in every section of the society, while accelerating the pace of digitisation. But, what will people consume on the Internet if the content is not relevant to them or does not appeal to their sentiments? In such a scenario, there is no motivation for them to be on the platform. We understand that while there is a huge demand for content in regional languages, the challenge is to offer a platform for first-time creators of local content and promote their content to attract new users on the internet. If we are able to create such an environment, then the dream of Digital India is not far.