Is Indian Startup Ecosystem Ready to Meet The Massive Demand for Vernacular Content? Vernacular content user base is expected to grow 3-fold in coming 5 years but is India armed with enough resources to meet the massive demand?

By Aastha Singal

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In a diverse nation like India where every other individual speaks a different language, comes from a different culture and has a different mindset, the future of vernacular is without a doubt bright. The power of technology has prompted a plethora of new users, speaking over 22 major Indian languages recognized by the constitution to join the internet every day.

Digital literacy and high-speed internet combined with cheaper smartphones availability have contributed to a massive shift in the patterns of online content consumption. A recent Google-KPMG survey had revealed that India already has more than 234 million Indian languages online users in comparison with 175 million English users.

The study further revealed that Indian language user base on the internet is expected to reach 536 million by 2021 at CAGR of 18 per cent whereas English users will reach only 199 million with mere 3 per cent growth. Major platforms have started recognizing the shift in trends and are coming in support of non-English languages. Google supports Telugu, Hindi, Bengali and Tamil for its advertising products.

Technical Improvisation

Majority of Indian startups are yet to be abreast with the technical aspects of vernacular. Every vernacular platform wants to be at the forefront of innovation by using tools like artificial intelligence but very little technology has so far been used for the same so far. In the process of catering to the multilingual audience, the startups are required to come to terms with the time's need.

Platforms are playing hard to understand and identify the customer needs and experimenting with multiple aspects. Pratilipi has recently started Alpha launch for Audio stories and is planning to publicly launch Audio stories on the platform in next few months whereas vernacular knowledge sharing platform Vokal has already introduced interactive videos in the form of live expert videos.

"Usually people start off with information, knowledge, entertainment, gaming and news as their initial use cases and move on to more sophisticated things like e-commerce. We see entrepreneurs attacking all these use cases with their solutions and this will get accelerated even more when growth in the English-speaking segment starts to stagnate," said Vokal founder Mayank Bidawatka.

Vernacularization of Social Media

On an average, internet user consumes 2 hours of content daily, a majority of which is video-based with a networking aspect. Youngsters are highly active on social media with the major purpose of interacting with the like-minded people and on the way, coming across the ones who share common interests with the individual, in terms various terms including language.

"English speaking users have Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc. How comfortable vernacular users feel on this platform is much more nuanced than just the language. Do they feel connected to the people on these platforms? Do they relate to the kind of content being posted?" asked Darshit Vora, Principal, Kalaari Capital, adding that some global platforms have cracked the code.

Through social media or other platforms, a massive opportunity is present for aspiring startups to create platforms for solving specific content needs of the vernacular user base. While India is catching with China in terms of population, it is far behind the country in terms of digitally active users who are actually consuming content. Time has come for platforms to dive into vernacularization and serve the mass population.

The Rise of Vernacular

While YouTube already supports 11 major Indian languages, Google and Facebook are also expected to offer all of their services in major Indian languages soon. With the increase in demand for vernacular content, multiple gates have opened for new players in the market to cater the needs of 132.42 crore Indians by offering distinctive services in regional languages.

Global and content-based companies like Quora, In short, UC Browser and PopXo have started putting their bets on vernacular by introducing services in Hindi on their respective platforms. In India, only a small percentage of the population is English speaking so vernacular space opens a whole new market opportunity with a wider reach, believes Shalini Prakash, a Venture Partner at 500 Startups.

The influx of massive regional audience has created a great demand for Indian language content and "the fastest and quick way for vernacular platforms to meet demands of regional language content is by generating high-quality video and audio content appealing to niche target groups that drive high engagement with consumers- but the key to success also lies in the distribution strategy," Prakash said.

Attracting the Right Audience

In the recent times, a massive demand has been noted for Indian language content online but only a handful of players dedicated for providing the niche services have been able to garner audience's interest. "Building platforms for a niche and focused target audience will help emerging firms attract the right audience quickly," Prakash added.

Given that almost 90 per cent of Indians can only speak, read and write in Indian languages, less than 1 per cent of the online content is in Indian languages, which has pushed the emerging startups to focus on serving a particular audience instead of targeting the entire lot.

A self-publishing platform Pratilipi is focused on providing content in eight Indian languages to their millions of readers. "We intend to differentiate from other players by focusing entirely on meaningful stories told by people directly. We are a completely UGC platform with most of the content medium-to-long form content," Pratilipi's founder Ranjeet Pratap Singh said.

Aastha Singal

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Features Writer

A business journalist looking to find happiness in the world of startups, investments, MSMEs and more. Officially started her career as a news reporter for News World India, Aastha had short stints with NDTV and NewsX. A true optimist seeking to make a difference, she is a comic junkie who'd rather watch a typical Bollywood masala than a Hollywood blockbuster. 

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