Exclusive: India.com, the joint venture between the Zee Group and Mail.com is rolling back its Indic language content initiatives, and is planning to aggregate all of its Indic content from sister concern Zee News:

BGR Hindi: India.com, the Hindi language version of gadget site BGR is no longer active, and http://hindi.bgr.in now redirects to http://www.bgr.in. BGR had launched the Hindi version on May 6th 2011, just a couple of weeks after launching its main site.
Tamil.India.com:  no longer links to its Tamil site, though it is still live. Tamil.India.com doesn’t appear to have been updated for quite a while. I can’t read Tamil (so correct me if I’m wrong), but the RSS feed suggests that there hasn’t been an update since 8th September 2011.

On being contacted by MediaNama, India.com CEO Arvindra Kanwal said that they’re shifting the language focus to news related content, and minimizing converting existing verticals into languages. Even the technology content in languages, which was previously being done by BGR, will be now from Zee News. “We want a more aggregated traffic in languages, because the base is small,” Kanwal said, adding that with news related content “their (Zee News’) competency is superior to ours in that and you need to scale it as a property.”

It’s striking how quick the change has been, since the properties were launched only around six months ago. So why this quick a change? Kanwal said that the Zee News indic properties will launch soon, and the existing properties were always a bit of a stop gap arrangement. At present, Zee News has an English news site, a Hindi news Site and 24Ghanta, a Bengali site for its Bengali news channel.

Our Take

I doubt if the focus in verticals like OnCars and BGR can be replaced by content from a news channel, which tends to be more generic in nature. In fact, it should have been the other way around – OnCars and BGR should have been providing content to Zee News in the form of specialist shows. How many sites do expert gadget news and reviews in Indic languages anyway, so there might have been an opportunity in even syndicating some of this content to Hindi language newspapers.

I don’t quite buy Kanwal’s argument that the initial launch of verticals was a stop gap arrangement, and this is a significant step backwards, at a time when more Indic language content needs to be made available for readers online.

Indic language advertising, as other portals will no doubt agree, has always been a challenge. That said, Kanwal is right about the fact that there is no point in India.com duplicating the effort being put into news creation by Zee News, given that they have multiple channels and teams gathering news. But when it comes to vertical focus, this is not the right approach. Has to be more to this decision than the earlier launch being a ‘stop gap arrangement’.

For Internet penetration to grow beyond the English language threshold, Indic language content and services have to drive connectivity.