This January, MediaNama held an open house discussion on the future of indic languages online. This is Part 1 of our coverage of the discussion.
English has been the medium of most communications on the Indian Internet, even though the vast majority of Indians don’t speak it as their first language. Thanks to falling data rates in the aftermath of Jio, Internet penetration rates are growing rapidly. As newer audiences seek content in their own languages, what are advertisers doing to keep up? Or rather, are they doing enough in the first place?
Why isn’t there enough indic language advertising online?
As indic language content, like Hindi-language news sites and websites in regional languages are created everyday, advertising doesn’t seem to have kept up at the same pace. Why are advertisers hesitant to target a rapidly growing audience in local Indian languages?
Anurag Gupta, founder and MD of DGM India (now CEO of SVG Columbus) said, “I have been hearing that the next big thing is going to be the regional languages. This has been happening for the 10 years while Internet has become big, mobile Internet has become big — but honestly I don’t think indic languages even constitute a percentage point of the total digital advertising spend. I think the one single bottleneck is that publishers and intermediaries have made it easy for advertisers to reach the local language audience in English. So they don’t want to take any risk — why should they make any effort? I can reach a Malayalam website with English banners, I can reach a Hindi website using English banners, so why should I work hard to create advertising assets separately for Indian languages?”
Amit Duggal,Vice President at Omnicom Media Group, said that most global advertisers only translate advertising to local languages in print and TV advertising. “Advertisers will only give global assets. If they create something for [Telugu channel] Maa TV, they’ll create a translation and upload that creative, and for print also. But for digital the challenges of converting into a digital platform are keeping them from doing the same thing … They haven’t tested it also, so they don’t know about local language returns. The moment they start testing it, they know the [click-through rate] and performance will be better.”
Growth of the Indic audience
Sandeep Amar, CEO of the Express Group’s Digital efforts, spoke of the new demographics who are coming online. “If you go to smaller villages or very small towns you will see that people will experience Internet and our experiencing Internet on mobile phone they will never experience probably on a desktop. Even if they see a desktop [computer] they will get a little scared — what is this? They will not know how to manage this complex machine, and actually there is value in terms of people reading full novels or magazines in Hindi on these devices. These audiences haven’t gotten an opportunity to opine and ideate on any kind of platform which they are now getting a chance on Facebook and other social platforms.
“If you see on Hindi the number of comments on Facebook and on the native platform whether it is Aajtak, Jansatta, Loksatta there are far far more than English so they are engaging 4 to 5 times than the English audiences. Because this is the first time they gotten an opportunity to talk. So this is all super great and I think Jio’s free SIM cards and free packages have really helped and I think the upside has been huge. Even I think my driver consuming more video because he’s free all day than I am, via the Jio SIM card. So there is huge video consumption that has gone up as well.”
Anurag Gupta said that there needs to be a stronger push to incentivize advertisers to create and deploy ads in local languages. “The inventories are available to advertise in English language, so there have to be some barriers created by publishers for a certain category of advertisers — there has to be a certain push and pull. The push has to be that, my site is not available for you to advertise in English language. Advertise in my regional language — Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada — pay me premium dollars, I’ll give you good brand solutions around it, I’ll make sure your engagement is better. It’s very logical. In Malayalam sites, if advertising is in Malayalam, my sense is that it’ll have more engagement in Malayalam. But the work has to be done and there has to be barriers where certain advertisers need to know that this inventory is not available if I just push an English-language creative.”
Challenges with indic advertising
Anurag Gupta highlighted the difference between traditional forms of media and online advertising that make it difficult for indic advertising to proliferate. “When you want to look at anything, you compare it with the nearest benchmarks that you have — so what we have in this case is print and television.
“Look at print — for example, a Times of India published in Delhi will go to Delhi readers. The Hindu in Chennai will go to Chennai readers. And so on and so forth. TV channels are broadcast throughout India via cable and satellite. But with the Internet, the scenario changes completely, because you could sitting in Delhi and be reading the New York Times or the Washington Post, or any of the news sites or any entertainment sites anywhere in the world. So typically there is a lot of cross-pollination here — there is no geographical boundary suddenly in this medium, and that actually starts raising challenges for a publisher to sell the inventory because it is very easy for me to sell to an advertiser saying — I am Times of India New Delhi so therefore, all Delhi audiences come to me so advertise with us, right?
“But on the Internet the geography makes it more complicated, and the advertiser may not be interested in paying money for India IP addresses or Indian users on New York Times so you need different kind of advertisers for monetizing the different kinds of users and this is happening on a real time basis. One of the things I tell people is that there has been no innovation practically in selling in the way other conventional medium are bought and sold, but on Internet the scenario has changed so much that everyday there is innovation.”
Amit Duggal further detailed concerns that advertisers have with indic advertising. “When it comes to digital the challenge is that the language which they are targeting needs to have existing assets converted into regional languages on a specific platform. I don’t know what ‘aur dikhao’ will look like in Malayalam.” He added, “While advertisers agree that [indic advertising is important] the platform is important too. The other thing which an advertiser or an agency guy looks up is the reach number. If you have the reach, there’ll be always more advertisers who will come up on the platform. There is no problem in terms of whether it will perform or the clients are agreeing or not agreeing, we just numbers to prove that [there’s an audience here]. So while we talk about Facebook and Google they show numbers or they show nothing else … So if you can deliver on reach the advertisers will come.”