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If 2018 showered love on Bharat, what will 2019 bring for Indian languages?

If 2018 showered love on Bharat, what will 2019 bring for Indian languages?

Friday January 04, 2019 , 5 min Read

Sharechat, Vokal, DailyHunt, Amazon, Google, and just about over 250 different companies were focussed on one thing this year - getting to Bharat, the next 500 million consumers. 

There were many themes and events that ruled the year gone by – while some will have a limited shelf life (at least we hope so!), others will shape businesses for years to come. 

The one defining theme that emerged in 2018 was the coming of age of Bharat. While that might sound funny, the fact is that last year, Bharat, or India 2.0, became a lucrative business proposition. 

Content platforms such as ShareChat, DailyHunt, Vokal, Newsdog and Pratilipi saw exponential growth in the number of users, and investors and the ecosystem put their faith in them. 

The common thread is all these platforms are focused on Indian languages. Interestingly, others too - from ecommerce players to edtech companies, from news aggregators to information platforms – are enamoured with vernacular languages and are looking to cash in on the next set of customers. 

These are Indians who, aided by cheap internet plans thanks to Reliance Jio, will log in to the internet for the very first time. If one were to describe demographics, they will not be fluent in English, will reside in smaller towns and villages and will have a large appetite for content, ecommerce, education – only all in their own language. 

2018 was the year startups sat up, took notice, and actively reached out to this audience. 

Image credit: Aditya Ranade

A growing base of new internet users 

According to a TRAI report published in September last year, the total number of internet subscribers touched 512.26 million as of June 30, as compared with 426 million in 2016. Reliance Jio had launched its services in September 2016. 

Of the total internet users, close to 95.78 percent access the internet through their mobile phones, the TRAI report added.  

With such a large and growing user base, it is no surprise that there is increasing use of internet on the phone. And since most of these are first-time internet users, they are accessing content on their phones. Many of the founders believe that currently for the first-time internet users, there hardly is any content available. 

It is in order to bridge this gap that many of these companies were born. The numbers also show that. 

Also read: Bharat ek khoj: The hunt for the next 500 million digital content consumers

India’s digital advertising market is $2 billion (compared to $70 billion in China and $104 billion in the US) but it’s growing. The war room is getting ready as content aggregators prepare to dish out snackable content, on demand, to India’s half a billion new netizens. The bet, right now is to get the users first, monetisation will follow. 

Closer home in our world of startups, news aggregator DailyHunt has the first-mover advantage in this space with over 100 million users and claims that it will clock north of $40 million in revenue in FY2019.

It is one of the main reasons for investors and founders to look at content specifically and more closely. 

More specifically, Indian content companies in the B2C space, but others from overseas, China to be specific, are banking on Bharat. 

Increasing foreign (Chinese) interest

A few months back, when YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma met the Alibaba Group in Bengaluru, they showed a keen interest to invest in Indian companies – specifically, content-led ones.

In the last one year, several foreign investment firms either made their first investments in India (Berkshire Hathaway, Morningside Venture Capital, Composite Capital etc.) or increased their footprint (Shunwei Capital, BEENEXT, UTEC Japan). Shunwei clocked 12 deals (as against just two in 2017) whereas BEENEXT doubled its deal count from four to eight.

Shunwei, in 2018, focused on Indian language content, investing in Vokal, which is TaxiForSure co-founder Aprameya Radhakrishnan’s new peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform for non-English internet users. It also backed the Indian language self-publishing platform Pratilipi, which raised $4.3 million in a Series A round in February.

News aggregator Newsdog, which focuses on Indian language content, raised $50 million in a round led by Tencent and others. Vokal raised $6.5 million, ShareChat raised $118 million across two funding rounds and DailyHunt raised $6.5 million. 

The Jio effect in Bharat

Call it the Jio effect, but Indians are loving the internet – so much that internet usage in India is now clearly divided pre and post Jio. How it did this was simple – Indians love things cheap with lots of ‘free gifts’ and offers, and Reliance them gave just that! 

Reliance Jio held 42.02 percent share of the internet subscriber base with 215.25 million consumers as of June this year. And this is where the key to Bharat lies. Reports suggest Jio’s subscriber base is likely to touch over 400 million in the next two years. Jio, in addition to internet services, also launched its own smartphone and feature phone and had sold 25 million units of its smartphone as of June 2018. Sanjay Swamy, Managing Partner, Prime Venture Partners, says, 

“The Jio effect has shown us one thing - we indeed are a large market. Local digitisation is no longer a distant dream like it once was; it has happening faster than we ever imagined.” 

Language, he adds, is the first step to break into a market like India with a potential user base of 700-800 million. While local language content has not yet reached the stage of having paying customers, it is a potential goldmine nobody wants to ignore. 

While 2018 may have seen a lineup at the start line, the year 2019 may be the one that actually see action and perhaps local language content even overtake English as the preferred medium for Indian internet users. “It needs consistency, time and patience,” an analyst who works for a consultancy and analytical firm told YourStory. “The one who has all three in abundance, along with the capital, might just be able to crack it.” Shubhdin!