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The presence of local Indian languages in the digital world is very low. This is strange, because local languages dominate in both the print media and the audio-visual media (TV, movies, radio). There are nearly 800 movies produced every year in India and their box office collection completely dwarfs the earnings of English films. In fact, Hollywood has found it lucrative to dub movies in local languages to grow their market share. However, the digital world so far has resisted this phenomenon. We believe the trend in the digital world of content is set to change direction sharply and we are about to witness an explosion in local language content. There are several reasons for this and we will look at some of the key drivers in turn. The key driver of digital content in India was the Internet (accessed through a PC). The PC in India has always been expensive when compared to the income levels. The price point of the PC itself was a barrier to access and India is abysmally low in terms of PC penetration. PC penetration is estimated to be of the order of 38% across SEC A, B and C segments, which, in turn, together account for less than 50% of urban Indian households (urban India itself is just about 30% of Indian households). Just three years back this figure was just 19%, which implies that penetration is exploding at a fast pace from a very low base. In total, about 25-26 million urban households have access to a PC (a figure that was just about 15 million three years ago). The Internet population in India is estimated to be of the order of 80 million people.
The drivers of this surge in PC penetration are the falling prices of PCs and laptops, combined with growing income levels. We expect the Internet population to grow five-fold in the next 10 years and PCs and laptops as access devices will also grow at a frenetic pace during this period. We expect the PC and Internet penetration to follow the path of other comparable economies, albeit with a gap of about 10-12 years. However, the more exciting story is in other devices that are increasingly being accessed for content·the mobile phone with 3G and subsequently 4G capabilities. The significantly lower access cost of mobile phones has already resulted in a teledensity of over 60% (on population) and a penetration into nearly 150 million of the households. Mobile penetration today has already caught up with TV penetration and is set to scale past effortlessly. Users around the globe have shown quick adaptability to the mobile interface for accessing the Internet, and there is no evidence to show that India will be any different.
A study commissioned by dotMobi has found that the mobile web is continuing its explosive global growth. An earlier 2008 study showed 1,50,000 mobile-ready websites, while the 2010 study showed approximately 3.01 million sites, representing an incredible two-year growth of more than 2,000%. In the Indian context, this is bound to happen as fast as in the rest of the world, if not faster. The clear driver is the low access cost of mobile devices. What does all this mean for content? We know already that the bulk of consumers prefer local language content. This is clearly illustrated by the consumption of other mass media— print, TV, films—where English accounts for less than 10% of the consumption. In the early days of digital media, the upper income segments, who mainly prefer the English language, dominated the digital consumption space, and the market economics, therefore, played out in a way that English language content dominated content generation in India. However, as the present decade plays out, the demand for local language content is bound to play out exactly as it has in other media and content creation is bound to explode. The national readership survey clearly demonstrates the preference for local language, which one intuitively knows just looking at the print and electronic media.
A survey by Juxt Consult (an online research firm) as far back as 2007 demonstrated the demand for local language content on the net. The same survey also found that demand for local content was stronger among online south Indians. Over 50%of the local content users were from south India, whereas the region accounted for 40% of the online users.
A subsequent survey by the same firm in 2009 found that “60% of regular Indian online users say they prefer to read in local Indian language and not English, but only 12% of regular online Indians actually check local language content online (out of a potential base of 15 million, only 3 million check)”.
The survey further found that 13% (6 million) of the total Internet users prefer to read online content in English. This means that there are close to 87% (41 million) people who do not prefer English, but are using the language as they have fewer options. Indeed, these surveys and other evidences clearly indicate that the lack of local language digital content is not because of lack of demand or desire; the constraint has been elsewhere.
The constraints have been really on the technology front, which appear to have been largely addressed by now. The early adoption was constrained heavily by factors such as: * Multiplicity of fonts * User-index-search-link circle did not catch on, hence use was limited to creator's circle of influence * Lack of local language keyboards The technology innovation, 'Unicode', addressed some of this. It is pertinent to note that the Chinese, the Japanese and the Koreans did not this face this problem. The lack of English penetration in these countries ensured that from the very early days of both the PC and the Internet, these countries were forced to go for local language keyboard and Unicode fonts. The penetration of English, which has been a great advantage for India in many economic areas, paradoxically acted as a constraint for Indian local languages to penetrate the digital space. However, the changes are already happening and we are just at the cusp where explosive growth is taking off.
Accessing information and entertainment via new media (Internet+mobile) is on the rise. The ubiquitous mobile with capability to access the Internet is ready to challenge traditional media by becoming the preferred mode of infotainment. This poses a new challenge to content providers.
All forms of media in India have seen growth once they adapted regional context and local language. Indeed, the trends across media clearly demonstrate the preference of local language by a mile. The fact that the Internet and mobile population in India has reached a critical mass indicates that the tipping point for economic viability of local language content has been reached. This and the fact that convergence is a reality that is pushing the demand for content in many ways, in our opinion, clearly indicates that the next few years are likely to see an explosion of local language content in India.