Slow and not-yet-steady…
By Robin Thomas
India is a country where majority of the people don’t speak English and its media – print, television and radio, specifically – have a larger share of local language content. But the same cannot be said about the internet, at least now. The internet in India is still, by and large, dominated by the English language content. According to the ‘Internet World Stats’ 2010 report, after English, Chinese is the second widely used language on the internet followed by Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese and German. These results, perhaps, assure India that there is immense scope for Indian language content to not only flourish, but also increase user interactivity.
Take for instance, i-Cube report 2011 by IAMAI-IMRB which states by December 2011, there were 121 million claimed Internet users. There are 90 million (70 mn in urban cities and 20 mn in rural villages) users that use Internet at least once a month (active Internet users). Of the active Internet users in urban cities, 26.3 million access Internet through their mobile phones. This has been the most recent change in the access behaviour and it is expected that this trend will continue to grow in the immediate future.
Mr BG Mahesh, Founder and MD, Oneindia.in observed: “Whatever is happening in print and TV will happen on the Internet. The language pie is far bigger than English in print and TV. English will also grow, but the language pie will be very large.”
Even as the internet consumption rapidly grows, the Indian language content has also been evolving over the years. According to industry estimates, the search volume in Indian languages is less than 2 per cent of the total search that takes place online. The online growth of Indian language consumption is mainly said to be because of video consumptions.
Mr Hemant Jain, Senior Vice President, Hungama Mobile pointed out the need for relevant language content and the need for increasing access of language content to the consumers. “I believe that not only there is a need of content in local languages, but more importantly the content should have local context for it to be more relevant for the consumer. The challenge in increasing access to content in Indian language includes the standardization of fonts and internationalized domain names, an issue the Indian government is already working on. The two biggest challenges I foresee are bandwidth infrastructure to deliver ease of access and local language to drive mass adoption.”
With online video touted as the next big thing for content consumption in Indian languages, there has been an increase in the Indian language video content found online, which may be due to the fact that video has more takers than written content.
Some steps are said to be taken to increase local language content for instance, Raftaar, a Hindi language search engine developed by Delhi-based research firm Indicus Analytics, debuted earlier this year. Local language newspapers have gone online: webduniya.com offers content in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Malayala Manorama is another local language paper offering news online in Malayalam language.
“There was a time when we saw 85 per cent of our traffic was from NRIs. Post 2007, we saw the page views increasing from India, now we get over 60 per cent of our traffic from India. The broadband penetration, mainly due to BSNL, has helped the growth of internet in non-urban India. Also, most schools have internet in their curriculum. So children lead the usage of internet at homes and other members have felt they might as well use the internet” added Mr Mahesh of Oneindia.
As far as search in Indian languages is concerned, there have been efforts to localize the content. Google, for instance, in search has ‘transliteration’ which allows users to type Indian languages using Latin text. Google also has search options in the Indian languages and is said to be working proactively with the government as well as content companies in India to come out with a solution that would increase Indian language consumption on larger scale.
Mr Lalitesh Katragadda, Head of Products, India-Google, pointed out the need to solve the language consumption problem in order to increase the number of internet users. “We are going to rapidly run out of users if we don’t solve the language problem, which is making the internet work for Indic users. The challenge is that the Internet for the next 3 billion users will not be built by websites alone, or by monetary interests, which has driven the Internet for the first billion and a half. The Internet for the next 3 billion users will, by force, have to be built by the users themselves. For example, AdSense allowed a way for people to monetize their content, which got the content ecosystem to flourish and so on.”
Mr Arpan Chatterjee, experienced online media professional and consultant with webdunia.com stated: “Lotof work is happening on this front, with Indian language search engines and Google having Search in major Indian languages. Major social networking sites are also now getting into Indian languages. But the availability of quality Indian language online content is still limited, except for some news portal of large Hindi or regional newspapers.”
Also monetization of language content is a challenge today as there is not enough language content, and as a result, there is little or no language consumption online. There is a need to drive up language content in the online space. According to Mr Mahesh, not only is the government support crucial for this development, but the publishers too must take steps to help increase language consumption. “One needs a lot of patience and sustaining power to do well in the Indian language space. There are many opportunities in this space – ecommerce will be a reality in the language space in the coming years. With mobile internet becoming big one can think of providing various language services for the massive mobile user base in India,” he added.
Nevertheless the growth of consumption of Indian language content may take some time as the broadband penetration in India is still very low. Another avenue, as pointed out by Mr Mahesh is, to look at is the mobile, as it is believed that the next phase of the internet explosion will come from mobile. Mobile, which is one of the highest penetrated devices in the country today, is expected to not only expand the internet usage, but also bring in more user participation which may result in the development of more Indian language content.
Mr Chatterjee is of the view: “With more than 70 per cent penetration in mobile phone connections in India , and internet on mobile touching close to 100 million users, with more than 40 per cent being only mobile web users – only accessing the web through mobile. Mobile is the medium which can drive Indian language usage to a new level. Even in countries like Bangladesh, mobile payment solutions have helped get into interiors of the country.”
With multiple devices now opening up opportunities – smart phones, tablets, and so on which are likely to spur language consumption online and mobile, government support is again is equally crucial, believe industry players. Access to mobile internet must be made at affordable rates especially with the arrival of 3G. “Mobile internet browsing is pathetically slow in India. 3G has arrived, but it is not affordable for majority of the users. Affordable, fast mobile internet plans and font support will change the mobile internet scene in India” said Mr Jain.
Although the Indian language content in the online space has evolved over the years, it is said to be witnessing a slow adoption of its content especially from publishers mainly because of monetizing challenges. Digital players believe that like print, television and radio, Indian language consumption in the online space will also grow faster and soon have bigger share than the English language. One of the main reasons for this to happen is estimated to be because of the expansion of literacy rates and the increasing broadband and mobile penetration. ” India, with a much larger youth population, needs to put more focus on language online content and use mass channels like education portals, government services websites into multi lingual formats to drive language usage,” concluded Mr Chatterjee.