Future of Digital News Market Lies in Regional Languages

As the modern world has more ‘prosumers’ (consumers-as-producers), can a systemic reorganization of our media be far behind? Anubhav Mishra writes about the emergence of neo-journalism in regional language media and its ramifications on the growth of the Internet in India.

Vernacular digital media in India didn’t see much development until the mid-2000s. With the telecom boom in the non-urban areas, where local languages flourish the most, connectivity has dramatically increased.

We can divide the nation by its communication experience, into ‘real India’, where people are connected with each other ‘offline’ or physically, and ‘virtual India’, where people are connected to each other through social media, blogs, YouTube channels etc.

Digital journalism: The bigger media houses have therefore begun to adopt neo-journalistic methods (integration of media platforms) in regional languages to reach out to the Indian masses. Only 10% of the literate 76% know English and of those 10%, about 2% are ‘technologically challenged’. So instead of focusing on English as the digital lingua franca, regional news houses have turned to regional languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Kannada, Assamese, and so on. A few months ago, India was pleasantly surprised to see Facebook login page in Devanagari script.

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It’s a mobile world: Mobile phone purchasing capability of Indians has increased from 151 million sets in 2009 to 348 million sets in 2013 and is expected to cross 500 million mark by the end of 2015.The analysis by m-Portal suggests that while there were about 2 million Smart Phones in country in 2009, the numbers have increased not 2 or 5 or 10 but almost a whopping 15 folds to 29 million smartphones in 2013. By the end of 2015, this figure is expected to hit at least 50 million. This underscores the potential of the immense market for online news in regional languages. People with access to the technology are much more comfortable in—and starting to seek media platforms in—their own language.

App-based: It has also been found that people prefer a mobile application over the actual websites. Recently the Hindi-language channel ABP launched ABP Live across all smartphone platforms like Windows Store, Playstore and OS. Similarly Aaj Tak has a news app across all three popular platforms.

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Meanwhile, India’s net traffic is expected to increase fivefold by the end of 2015 and most of it will be accessed via mobile. As per the 2010 McKinsey digital consumer survey, while in 2010 internet had only 7% of penetration in Indian public, it is expected to rise up to 35% in 2015. Whereas 79% of the Internet-friendly population is expected to come online via mobile platform and 41% (that is, more than half of the above figure) will be exclusively via mobile. So how does growth in internet traffic interest the vernacular or regional news content producers? According to a latest study conducted by Internet and Mobile Association of India and IMRB International, regional content availability can boost the growth of Internet in India by 24%. The study said that in 2013 the regional language content users grew by 15% to 71.8 million from 45 million in 2012. Hence, the integration of regional language with news dissemination process and providing them proper technological platform can lead to immense growth of regional media.

*Loosely translated from Tamil, “You got that right!”

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The author is a mass communication trainee at India Today Media Institute, Noida. He is an engineer from Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, and has been a Communication Expert with Chaupal Gramin Vikas Evam Shodh Sansthan, an NGO that works on Forest Rights Activism for particularly vulnerable tribes in Chhattisgarh.

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