The vast majority of the country is not conversant in the English language, and even amongst people who are, there is a great tendency to feel more comfortable with their regional languages. This idea has been borne out by a number of studies, but perhaps the most compelling point is that the Malar Publications’ Tamil eveninger Maalaimalar sees 5,000,000 page views every month.
Manish Malik, CEO, Hazel Media, which created regional reading app mPustak, said, “There are reportedly 700 million mobile connections in the country, where only ten per cent of our population is literate in English. The huge majority of the people accessing content on mobile devices are not English speakers, and even more important, several studies have showing that as much of 80 per cent of the people in Delhi also prefer non-English content. As you move away from the metro, the numbers get higher.”
Malar Publications has now announced the launch of an iPad app for their newspaper, which is a free download and comes with no subscription fees. Malar Publications’ digital initiatives are looked after by Hello FM marketing and IT team. Rajeev Nambiar, President and CEO, Hello FM said, “These digital initiatives are part of the Group’s brand building exercise with a mission to stay connected with the growing Tamil Diaspora, apart from making it more convenient for its affluent readers on the move.”
When asked about the revenue model, he said, “At this point of digitalisation, revenues are not the key driver, though there is a decent monetisation window through banner ads space. Needless to mention, popularity of the service shall decide whether to price it, though the prime objective is to spread brand’s bandwidth.”
Demand driving growth
Earlier this year, the Malayala Manorama also launched an iPad app, which is also presented in the regional language.
Mariam Mammen Mathew, COO, Manorama Online, said, “We have been at the forefront of adopting new technology, and so when there was a lot of feedback from users both in India and abroad, we knew that this was an area we had to be present in. Also, we believe there is going to be a lot of growth in this space and it will become unavoidable in the future.”
The Manorama app, which was co-created by Garcia Design, is free to download and to access news content, and Mathew said that they receive separate advertising for the app, but might consider a subscription model in the future. She added, “The feedback has been terrific, far beyond what we were expecting. The number of downloads of the first version of the app, which was not announced and was really meant more for testing, convinced us that there is a need to be in this space.”
However, Malik agrees with Nambiar's point that such apps are not just about displaying the content. He said, “The iPad allows you to display Indian fonts, so it would be possible to serve these pages on the web. By having an app it is also a branding exercise. The user doesn’t have to remember the bookmark, instead their icon resides on the page itself.”
The masses need something different
For mPustak, the focus has been on reaching out to the masses, who, even with marketplaces like Nokia’s mobile app store, have only a miniscule number of regional content options available to them. Malik said, “For the low end phones, the problem is really about the hardware or software not supporting the fonts, or not displaying them precisely. We created a framework so that this support is provided on any device, and we made this available for free download from February, and we’ve seen around 2 lakh downloads by now.”
Kiran Gopinath, CEO, Ozone Media, India's oldest ad network, also feels that by targeting the iPad, publishers are missing the mark. He said, “The success of these applications depend on the affordability of the device. Not many users who consume regional content on the net can afford an up-market device like the Ipad. Though having an app on the iPad would serve the dailies’ cosmetic objectives but the average iPad user would invariably be from the urban areas with very little or no inclination to consume regional news and current affair stories. Affordable tablets and smartphones would drive consumption of regional dailies. This year itself many tablet and mobile manufacturing companies will introduce tablets and smartphones in the sub Rs. 10,000 segment. Regional dailies would be better off if they start targeting the bottom of the pyramid.”
He added, “Matrimony and BFSI are two categories that advertise heavily in regional languages apart from advertising in English. The other categories do advertise in regional media but it still pales in comparison. This because, most matrimony and BFSI brands run lead generation campaigns. This trend nonetheless should change in the next few years as advertisers will run more display campaigns. Advertisers have realised that it’s very important to follow the user and not the site when targeting ads to the regional audience. Regional dailies in the news space have increasingly become aggregators of such audiences and as the new users from tier-2 and tier-3 cities join the fold, advertisers will gradually look to target this segment through regional dailies.”
While there is a lot of difference between the iPad world and the non-iPad world, the fact is that users in both groups are open to regional content and many actually prefer it. Efforts like mPustak are a powerful tool to reach out to a mass audience, but the question that remains is whether widespread adoption of the mobile internet will be pushed along by regional languages or not.
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