The Rise Of Regional Language Economy
With reverse migration after the pandemic-induced lockdowns and the overall digital push, the regional language content space is booming like never before
In 2017, regional language Internet users surpassed English language users by about 201 million, according to an analysis by Google and KPMG. The report further stated that the number of Indian language Internet users would reach 536 million by 2021 at a CAGR of 18 per cent compared with just 3 per cent for English content consumers.
For the last few years, experts had been predicting that regional language would become the next big driver for the Indian digital industry. Today, the pandemic has made it a reality. “The native English-speaking population is a small fraction of the smartphone or Internet base. The transacting base of e-commerce is well past the English-speaking population and going deeper into markets where English is not the default. So it cannot be avoided,” said Deepak Gupta, founding partner, WEH Ventures.
The regional language content space is booming like never before. With reverse migration after the pandemic-induced lockdowns and the overall digital push, we have seen a huge hike in regional language content consumption, especially in tier II, tier III and rural areas. Many OTT, short-video, news and social commerce platforms have cashed in on the same. “A vernacular economy is emerging which offers scale and growth opportunities for entrepreneurs. Opportunities span across content, entertainment, influencer ecosystem to commerce, Ed-tech, and service to name a few,” said Ashish Wadhwani, managing partner, IvyCap Ventures Advisors.
Many Sectors Join the Regional Language Bandwagon
India is a mobile-first consumer economy and smartphones remain the device of choice for accessing the Internet in most parts of the country because they are relatively cheap with cheaper data plans.
“The rapid growth in the number of Internet and mobile phone users surprisingly comes from rural parts of the country where the preferred language is vernacular. Therefore, vernacular content - be it for education or entertainment - is playing a big role in India's digital industry in all sectors,” said Pulkit Sharma, co-founder and CEO, Khabri, a regional language audio platform.
Besides Telegu, Hindi and Tamil, other Indian languages such as Bengali, Kannada and Marathi, among others, have been lately entering the digital space. “The demand for digital content consumption behavior has changed rapidly ever since the outbreak of the pandemic. As people were confined to their homes for a long time, with no face-to-face socializing with the outside world, they wanted interesting and engaging content for entertainment and learning purposes that is not just in English. Thus, the demand for vernacular content including audio and video picked up instantly. As a result, sectors such as edtechs, OTTs, among others experienced a boom,” added Sharma.
Challenges Faced By Companies Trying To Adopt Regional Languages
The primary challenge faced by companies while making the shift is the difficulty in understanding the cultural nuances of people speaking a particular regional language. “It is also to note that the language and culture change after every 100 km in India hence, it's very clear that just translating content to another language isn't sufficient, but to retreat the whole content with regional sensibility is the key,” said Khabri’s Sharma.
Besides understanding society as a whole and not just looking at adding a language, companies going the regional language way also face challenges of creating a uniform user experience. “I would think the key aspects of user experience is the biggest challenge. For instance, the tier 1 English users tend to rely on search but the wider audience prefers to browse and checkout things through a more visual interface like video. It can be hard to have significantly different user interfaces as even the number of SKUs served up may be very different, for example in search versus browse behavior and the algorithms would be different,” said WEH Ventures’ Deepak Gupta.
Love For Regional Language And Availability Of Talent
Some challenges apart, one of the major factors leading to the boom besides smartphone and Internet penetration is the cultural bent and love for using regional language as the primary medium for communication.
“In India, languages go beyond and split into local dialects that are closer to its traditions. There are typical regional words that people connect to, and these are playing a vital role in terms of content delivery, making it more acceptable among the vernacular population, who prefer to listen and watch content in their mother tongue instead of just English,” said Khabri’s Sharma.
We also have abundant talent waiting to be showcased and utilized in the space, which will further accelerate the regional language boom. “With more and more vernacular platforms, talent will get better visibility. Today, talented content creators or contributors are working on various aspects to develop unique, engaging, knowledgeable content for their audience,” he added.
Be it in short-video space or ecommerce or OTT, there are content creators who already have a huge following in all regional language markets and most platforms today have coaches to groom the emerging influencers.
“Besides, India is uniquely placed to build AI around vernacular consumers and content. For example, the size of a Bengali-speaking consumer base across East, North-East India, and Bangladesh is larger than Indonesia. Engaging this community and building solutions for them can be a gold mine for budding entrepreneurs,” said IvyCap Ventures Advisors’ Ashish Wadhwani.
Overall, the country has experienced massive growth in terms of the user base of local languages and companies from various sectors are making offerings that suit the Bharat segment of the population like never before.
Shanthi specialises in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. She is also a mom who looks forward to playing a game of cards with her tween daughter every evening after work.