This Sri Lankan startup aims to provide quality content in South Asian languagesAthira Nair
RoarMedia wants to be the go-to platform for all kinds of informative content for internet users looking for good content in their native language.
At a glance
Founder: Mustafa Kassim
Year of launch: 2015
Location: Sri Lanka
Sector: Online content
Problem it solves: Lack of good quality content online for local languages
The idea of starting a content platform came to Mustafa Kassim while he was getting his degree in Economics at California State University Northridge. “I yearned to read and watch well-narrated stories from Sri Lanka, but a platform of that kind did not exist. So when I got back home, my idea was to create a content site that would cater to the Sri Lankan diaspora,” he says.
Mustafa was particular that if knowledge shapes a society, then knowledge/content providers should ensure that society is fed with progressive information. With that mission, RoarMedia was born.
Mustafa adds, “Roar means a few things: the roar of truth, as we stand for accurate and credible information, the roar of recognition, our content makes our voices heard, the roar of motivation, which keeps us charged to achieve our goal of being the best digital media group in South Asia focused on regional languages.”
Mustafa, now 25, launched the website in 2015 offering features and news analysis in English. “We soon garnered a lot of attention from the millennial English speaking audience in Sri Lanka,” he says.
While his competition was from newspaper websites, Mustafa claims they do not cater to this new, online audience looking for good quality content. The ‘fake news’ or gossip sites, as a result, are no competition due to the kind of content they produce.
But the real turning point came when RoarMedia launched Sinhala language platform and saw 10X user growth within a few months. The Sinhalese platform covers local and global history, entertainment, lifestyle and sports features.
Its sub-brands are Roar Arya, a women-focused content brand, and Roar Sinhala Tech, which provides tech-related news and features relevant to the Sri Lankan market. Roar Sinhala claims to have over nine million page views and three million unique visitors per month.
That is when they realised that this was a strong need gap that they were addressing. Internet penetration is growing at a tremendous pace in the Indian subcontinent and South Asia; why not repeat the model across languages?
A year ago, Roarmedia started its Bangladesh operations, and Roar Bangla is now ranked ahead of Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter in the country. A big part of the content caters to the Indian audience with many Indian contributors writing for Roar Bangla.
In the last 10 months, the startup has launched Roar Hindi, which has already garnered about 21 million video views and about a million website sessions.
Today, RoarMedia is present in five languages altogether - Hindi, Tamil, Bangla, and Sinhala and English from Sri Lanka.
Anyone in 25-40 age group consuming content on smartphones in their native language from Tier II cities in the sub-continent is RoarMedia’s target audience. For reaching out to users, social media content distribution is one of its strategies.
“We have also launched an app, which we will aggressively market in the coming days,” Mustafa adds.
Also, RoarMedia works with leading advertising and digital marketing companies like GroupM and NeoOgilvy to collaborate on native advertising content.
RoarMedia got profitable in Sri Lanka late last year by taking advertising for leading brands such as HSBC, Ceat, Unilever, Nestle etc. Mustafa claims that their campaigns have helped brands contextualise their products and services.
“We are now focusing on growing our revenues in India and Bangladesh, and working with agencies and advertisers to continue to grow,” he adds. Over the last two quarters, RoarMedia has seen 20 percent monthly growth.
By 2021, an estimated number of 536 million users on the Indian internet will be non-English users. Hindi will overtake English as the largest language on the Indian internet by that time, according to a Google-KPMG report.
According to Mustafa, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi and Kannada are witnessing stupendous growth on Indian internet, fueled by easy availability of smartphones and inexpensive data services. “So the market for us is as big as the native language user base in this sub-continent,” he says.
Ensuring quality content
Though RoarMedia is a Singapore-based company, their team of 65 – for graphics, video advertising, and sales - is spread across New Delhi, Colombo and Dhaka. “At the core of our team are highly experienced editors and writers for each language responsible for creating almost all our content,” says Mustafa. They also have freelance writers, animators, and video editors.
“Most regional publishers create content with a sole focus on clicks, while we have a quality plus quantity benchmark,” says Mustafa. According to him, it is a challenge to make brands and advertisers want to work on native advertising/sponsored content since they want to keep their platforms relatively ad-free.
Mustafa believes that native languages are the future of the internet. “Though sponsored content has become fairly common in online English world, advertisers are just warming up to the format in non-English languages. So we need to work harder in providing customised native content solutions,” he says.
A future with roaring possibilities
RoarMedia raised pre Series A funding from BOV Capital and Digital Innovation Fund (backed by Dialog Axiata) in November 2017. It is also backed by Google India MD Rajan Anandan. Mustafa says that they may look at a further round of funding for growth in India in the next 12-18 months.
“India is a massive opportunity for us. So we will focus on India over the next three to five years. We are looking to be present in seven Indian languages by 2020. At the moment, we are focusing on scaling up operations in the three languages we already operate in. In the last two quarters of 2018 we will look to cover Malayalam or Telugu and Marathi,” he adds.
RoarMedia also intends to launch focused video properties on YouTube, which will be valuable for brands to explore partnership. They already do anchor shows in English and Sinhala, Bangla and Hindi.
“We are also actively considering infotainment media properties in languages/dialects such as Bhojpuri and Punjabi. We will evaluate targeting Nepal after building a sizeable presence in India,” Mustafa explains.
Recipient of the ‘Most Popular Social Media Content Portal’ award at Colombo Social Media Week in 2017, RoarMedia’s differentiator is the careful process it takes up whilst selecting who to work with or accept advertisements from. “It helps us maintain our loyal reader base. Whether it’s organic or paid-for content, only the most informative content reaches our audience,” says Mustafa.