“With deeper internet penetration and accessibility, Indians today prefer to consume content in the language of their choice” says Hemant Jain, Sr. EVP & Head of Digital Business @ Lokmat Media
You may know that India, is the second-most populous country, the seventh-largest country by land area, and the most populous democracy in the world. India had a population of 1.39 billion by 2020; the latest figures say that India’s population increased by 13 million (+1.0%) between January 2020 and December 2020. 35.2% of India’s population lives in urban centres, while 64.8% lives in rural areas.
Globally, India ranks 2nd for active internet users
Did you know that according to the IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE 2020 report, India’s digital population touched 622 million users by the end of last year increasing the penetration rate to 45% from just 4% in 2007? This also ranked the country second in the world in terms of active internet users. This increase is largely driven by higher adoption in rural India, which has clocked a 13% growth to 299 million internet users over the past year, or 31% of India’s rural population. Small towns currently account for almost two out of every five active internet users in the country. The number of internet users in urban India rose by 4% to 323 million in 2020.
The number of internet users in India is expected to grow by 45% over the next five years to reach 900 million by 2025. The report predicts that by 2025, there will be more internet users in rural India than in urban India.
How did the pandemic change the digital ecosystem in India?
One big change that has happened during the last 12-15 months has been the dawn of digital. What demonetisation couldn’t do, Covid-19 did for mobile payments, OTT platforms and the online news publishing sites. India’s digital ecosystem hit its second inflection (the first being in 2017 when data prices dropped and internet access skyrocketed, thanks to the Jio effect) and life as we knew it would never be the same again.
With deeper internet penetration and accessibility, Indians today prefer to consume content in the language of their choice. Indian language internet user base grew at a 41% CAGR between 2011 and 2016. It continues to grow at a 18% CAGR, compared to the English internet user base growing at 3% CAGR and expected to account for nearly 75% of India’s internet user base by the end of this year.
How did search behaviour of users on Google change during the pandemic?
According to the Google Search 2020 India Report (Dec’2019 – Dec’2020),
- People across India have used Google Translate features over 17 billion times in the last year to translate web pages into Indian languages
- Surge in search volume for language-specific content on Google Search (Hindi -25%+, Telugu – 30%, Tamil – 20%+)
- 80% Year-On-Year increase in Google searches for ‘local news’
- 84% of online video viewers preferring non-English materials
- 90%+ Youtube viewers preferred watching content in Indic languages
Which languages are most popular among Indian internet users?
Hindi is expected to lead the pack and along with Marathi, Bengali and South languages to steer the dominance of Indian language content on Internet. Lokmat.com, India’s No.1 read Marathi news & infotainment daily in 2016 had a little less than a million unique users per month contributing to less than 10 million page views. In May’2021 the site clocked 20 million unique users contributing to 289 million page views. (Source: Google Analytics)
Local language media in India is not a new phenomenon and dates centuries back. Largely dominated by print all these years. And even today, 9 out of the 10 top newspapers in India are in the local language. Lokmat, inspite of being a single state Marathi language news media brand, it enjoys circulation and readership numbers in print which are much larger than the largest read English daily in India.
What has led to the growth of local language consumption on digital in India?
In the last decade we have witnessed some remarkable shifts and developments which has led to the growth of local language users and consumption of Indian language content on digital in India
- Affordable Internet: During the last decade, thanks to the launch of Jio, access to Internet has become easier and more affordable, leading to the growth in online traffic from Tier 2 and 3 towns and villages of India. As per Comscore, the top 5 state clusters which includes Maharashtra & Goa, UP, West Bengal+Sikkim+Orissa, Andhra Pradesh& Telangana, Tamil Nadu& Pondicherry account for nearly 51.4% of India’s digital population. These states have very large base of local language users
- Visible shift in mindset within the traditional family-owned media houses to embrace the change from Print to Digital. This change is largely led by the GenNext within the family who have studied abroad, are early adopters of technology and are keen to build business of future. They realise the importance of a digital first approach and keen in investing to re-engineer their existing business models and build converged Newsrooms to continue to deliver credible new across platforms
- Significant development in local language search and discovery of content largely led by Major tech players. Google Multi-lingual Representationcurrently supports 16 Indian languages and Google Search is available in 9 Indian languages. YouTube India home page is now available in 10 Indian languages. Last year, search queries for ‘translate’ increased by over 50%, while 50% of Google Discover users consumed content in Indian languages.
- Unprecedented rise in OTT, number of payers and content consumption has helped develop the video content developer ecosystem in local languages. Today, 95 % of the online video consumption is in Indian languages. At Lokmat, we work very close with Youtube and Facebook. From a Zero presence in Video 3 years back, we have grown to a monthly average of 140 million video views across these 02 platforms in a single language –Marathi.
- Emergence of popular verticals (Auto, Education, Gadgets, Women etc) &new generation content sites (ala Buzz Feed, Scoop Whoop in English) in local languages too has witnessed early traction amongst the Gen Z audience.
- Re-Emergence of Audio to aid content discover and consumption especially in rural India. According to the Google Search 2020 India Report (Dec’2019 – Dec’2020), 60% of users in India interact with voice assistants via their smartphones, making mobile the preferred device for many.
- Growing relevance of local language content amongst the Hyperlocal Audience. In 2012, a Nesta report defined hyperlocal as ‘online news or content services pertaining to a town, village, single postal code or other small, geographically defined community’. In the recent times, hyperlocal reach is becoming more and more relevant as the relatability among the audience of that community is high.
What news do users want to read online?
National issues don’t really interest or directly impact the daily life of audiences in tier-2 and tier-3 towns as much as civic, political and social issues in their local catchment. They are interested in knowing more about local events or growth opportunities available within their own surroundings. Such news has huge ability to empower the society at large to evolve, formulate an opinion and take informed decisions.
While the growth of Indian language users on internet is very promising, there exists certain key impediments to this growth. It is important for businesses to invest in understanding key consumer insights and rapidly changing consumer behaviour in rural markets to build better products, desired user experience, content relevancy, discoverability and ease of use. Monetization continues to be a big challenge for most of the online publishers. Availability of local talent with the requisite digital media skill sets is a huge challenge. Multi-platform content distribution is imperative for the brand to stay relevant and discovered putting additional pressure in developing custom-created content for specific platforms.
They say, it’s never one event, it’s a confluence of events that leads to change. Users are hungry for local news in their own language and they want it at their fingertips. In that sense, the digital world is shrinking and increasingly turning local, satiating the thirst of the audience who is looking for content in the local languages. This trend isn’t evolving anymore, its already here and brands who will adapt to this change will succeed in reaching out to their target audiences effectively.
This article is authored by Hemant Jain, Sr. EVP & Head of Digital Business @ Lokmat Media.