Transcript of "Indian languages in the digital world"
Source: Financial Express, 28th January, 2011
The presence of local Indian languages in the digital world is very low. This is strange, because local languagesdominate in both the print media and the audio-visual media (TV, movies, radio). There are nearly 800 moviesproduced every year in India and their box office collection completely dwarfs the earnings of English films. Infact, Hollywood has found it lucrative to dub movies in local languages to grow their market share. However, thedigital world so far has resisted this phenomenon. We believe the trend in the digital world of content is set tochange direction sharply and we are about to witness an explosion in local language content. There are severalreasons 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 alwaysbeen expensive when compared to the income levels. The price point of the PC itself was a barrier to accessand 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 Indianhouseholds (urban India itself is just about 30% of Indian households). Just three years back this figure wasjust 19%, which implies that penetration is exploding at a fast pace from a very low base. In total, about 25-26million urban households have access to a PC (a figure that was just about 15 million three years ago). TheInternet 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 growingincome levels. We expect the Internet population to grow five-fold in the next 10 years and PCs and laptopsas access devices will also grow at a frenetic pace during this period. We expect the PC and Internetpenetration 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·themobile phone with 3G and subsequently 4G capabilities. The significantly lower access cost of mobile phoneshas already resulted in a teledensity of over 60% (on population) and a penetration into nearly 150 million ofthe households. Mobile penetration today has already caught up with TV penetration and is set to scale pasteffortlessly. Users around the globe have shown quick adaptability to the mobile interface for accessing theInternet, and there is no evidence to show that India will be any different.
A study commissioned by dotMobi has found that the mobileweb is continuing its explosive global growth. An earlier 2008study showed 1,50,000 mobile-ready websites, while the 2010study showed approximately 3.01 million sites, representingan incredible two-year growth of more than 2,000%.In the Indian context, this is bound to happen as fast as in therest of the world, if not faster. The clear driver is the lowaccess cost of mobile devices.What does all this mean for content? We know already thatthe bulk of consumers prefer local language content. This isclearly illustrated by the consumption of other mass media—print, TV, films—where English accounts for less than 10% ofthe consumption. In the early days of digital media, the upperincome segments, who mainly prefer the English language,dominated the digital consumption space, and the marketeconomics, therefore, played out in a way that Englishlanguage content dominated content generation in India.However, as the present decade plays out, the demand forlocal language content is bound to play out exactly as it has inother media and content creation is bound to explode.The national readership survey clearly demonstrates thepreference for local language, which one intuitively knows justlooking at the print and electronic media.
A survey by Juxt Consult (an online research firm)as far back as 2007 demonstrated the demand forlocal language content on the net. The samesurvey also found that demand for local contentwas stronger among online south Indians. Over50%of the local content users were from southIndia, whereas the region accounted for 40% ofthe online users.A subsequent survey by the same firm in 2009found that “60% of regular Indian online users saythey prefer to read in local Indian language andnot English, but only 12% of regular online Indiansactually check local language content online (outof a potential base of 15 million, only 3 millioncheck)”.The survey further found that 13% (6 million) of thetotal Internet users prefer to read online content inEnglish. This means that there are close to 87%(41 million) people who do not prefer English, butare using the language as they have feweroptions. Indeed, these surveys and otherevidences clearly indicate that the lack of locallanguage digital content is not because of lack ofdemand or desire; the constraint has beenelsewhere.
The constraints have been really on thetechnology front, which appear to have beenlargely addressed by now. The early adoptionwas constrained heavily by factors such as:* Multiplicity of fonts* User-index-search-link circle did not catch on,hence use was limited to creators circle ofinfluence* Lack of local language keyboardsThe technology innovation, Unicode, addressedsome of this. It is pertinent to note that theChinese, the Japanese and the Koreans did notthis face this problem. The lack of Englishpenetration in these countries ensured that fromthe very early days of both the PC and theInternet, these countries were forced to go forlocal language keyboard and Unicode fonts. Thepenetration of English, which has been a greatadvantage for India in many economic areas,paradoxically acted as a constraint for Indianlocal languages to penetrate the digital space.However, the changes are already happeningand we are just at the cusp where explosivegrowth is taking off.
Accessing information and entertainment via newmedia (Internet+mobile) is on the rise. The ubiquitousmobile with capability to access the Internet is ready tochallenge traditional media by becoming the preferredmode of infotainment. This poses a new challenge tocontent providers.All forms of media in India have seen growth once theyadapted regional context and local language. Indeed,the trends across media clearly demonstrate thepreference of local language by a mile. The fact that theInternet and mobile population in India has reached acritical mass indicates that the tipping point foreconomic viability of local language content has beenreached. This and the fact that convergence is a realitythat is pushing the demand for content in many ways, inour opinion, clearly indicates that the next few years arelikely to see an explosion of local language content inIndia.
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