Guest Article: The neglected side of growth: Beyond English

Growing mobile penetration is putting the Internet in the hands of the masses. Growth in vernacular content could well spark a second mobile revolution in India, says BG Mahesh, CEO, OneIndia.

e4m by BG Mahesh
Updated: Feb 21, 2011 8:16 AM
Guest Article: The neglected side of growth: Beyond English

As a country, we’ve laid emphasis on English. As a diverse country, we have laid emphasis on religions. While English binds the country, what happens when you just step beyond it? A subject very close to my heart, I would like to throw emphasis on need to go beyond English, not only recognising culture, but also how it is imperative for growth.

The mismatch: In the country of over a billion people, only 12 per cent speak English. There may be many dialects and languages dominating the country, however, we have not yet been able to capitalise and create our own ‘Baidu’. Why? Businesses revolve around purchasing power. So, is there not enough purchasing power in the non-English speaking janta.

A country reeling under inflation can hardly say that 77 per cent of its people do not have purchasing power. In fact, it is blasphemy to assume that Tier II markets, where language print papers dominate, have low purchasing power. When the largest of companies are focusing towards the rural areas, why is it that we have yet failed to take communications there?

I believe, therefore, that there is unexploited potential for businesses, especially Internet, in Tier II and III cities in India. But, I also am keenly aware of what went wrong, so far.

Infrastructure: India is treated as one country, and, therefore, all our devices have that one common language that few people speak across towns.

Some basic infra goes missing in the equation. Do we have keyboards that have local language, or mobile handsets that have language fonts?

The first rule for any business was always to communicate with the consumer. If the infrastructure would not come up for that, then there is no way that adoption will happen. Thus demand is not visible.

Need: Even now we are struggling with electricity to penetrate into villages, however, mobile has become a necessity for everyone. The past two years have seen the emergence of broadband, cable Internet, wireless data card access, cheaper smart phones, et al. Telcos are seeing a huge growth in Tier II and III cities. Yet, services can only penetrate as much as they start understanding the needs of the masses and stop replicating their foreign counterparts. Therefore, there is a strong need to understand the need-gap and bringing in an eco-system of services suitable to the consumer.

What needs to be considered!

The diversity: For acceptance or adoption of mobile beyond English, every state would need to be treated separately. There are several countries in one country, but even the smallest of the countries has needs that are huge markets. Thus, businesses need to merge around these needs and cater separately to these markets. Internet businesses need to learn from brick and mortar marketplaces.

Language: Mobile is no longer seen as a luxury, it has become a necessity. When a commodity becomes necessity, it experiences a tipping point. Today, most schools have Internet in their curriculum, income tax filing for corporates has to be done online, frequent air travelers prefer buying tickets online – all these make Internet usage a ‘necessity’ and this will force the growth of Internet users in India. Until now, Internet penetration did not exist, that is, very few could afford Internet connections (PC costs were high, and providers were not available).

With growth, we will see penetration, too, increasing. Majority of India doesn’t speak English. English accounts for less than 10 per cent of the consumption in print, TV films. In fact, advertisers have started taking advantage of language portals these days. They have seen creating banners in the respective language gives better RoI. We have always found that ‘language’ text link and display banners get a better response than English when a user is on our language channels. Advertising in language media is nothing new – for ages advertisers have been advertising in language newspapers and TV channels.

The demand for local language content on the Internet is bound to play out exactly as it has in other media and content creation is bound to explode, and there are immense visible opportunities in the space.

Language ecommerce is yet to take off in a big way as all major players are concentrating on first establishing themselves in the metros, but the day of language ecommerce is not very far off.

The mobile device will play a big role in the consumption of language content because mobiles have become ubiquitous. But this will become a reality only if language fonts are supported on these devices and mobile Internet is embraced by most consumers (currently 10 per cent of mobile users use mobile Internet).

At a cusp, the industry would sooner or later take to local communication and leverage growth from corners of India.

(BG Mahesh is CEO of OneIndia.)

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