Content businesses are in for a tough time, as adoption of mobile Internet gathers momentum in India. The switch is happening at a faster clip than you would have imagined: data consumption is growing rapidly. It is not trivial that both Idea Cellular and Bharti Airtel have reported increases in data consumption. Airtel’s data traffic in India increased by 20% to 46.69 billion MBs during the Jan-Feb-March quarter (details), up from 39 billion MBs in the previous quarter, while that of Idea Cellular increased as much as 30.99% quarter on quarter (charts). While conducting our YouTube research last year, we learned that for most channel owners we spoke with, 45-55% of video consumption in India is via mobile. You might say that this is all incremental usage, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant portion of it is a shift. The way we are consuming content is changing, and there are users who might just skip the web and go straight to mobile. Rajesh Jain was right.

There are two key challenges facing you – rather, us – as content creators and publishers:

– Discovery & usage: If you’re asking the app versus mobile web question, you’re still stuck in 2010. It’s both. The tricky part is not creating an app or a responsive site, but actually getting people to use it. Search isn’t a big component of discovery on mobile. Social is. Mobile has taken some power away from the dominant force on the web that is Google, and Facebook’s mobile revenue growth (and anecdotal feedback I’ve received from a key developer) suggests that it is becoming indispensable to discovery on mobile. Twitter works very well for us as well, despite it’s relatively limited usage, and transient nature. Facebook has reduced its reach significantly, and content creators await a platform that has both usage and reach. With multiple social platforms to work with, things become more complex, time consuming and hence expensive. But with search no longer dominant on mobile, SMO is the new SEO. Be wary of aggregators posing as RSS feed readers that take an audience away from you, and social networks doing what Facebook has.

– Monetization: This is the big one. If you were getting pennies for the dollar with the switch from analog/deadwood to the web, you’re getting fractions of pennies for the dollar on the mobile. Selling advertising will become more complex because of the multiplicity of formats and their effectiveness on mobile. Native is the way to go on mobile (Facebook, Times Internet, and more recently, Inmobi), but a lot of work needs to go into helping Indian advertising agencies create for native advertising, and convince advertisers of the format. The advent of platforms, such as what Inmobi has launched, will help, but returns will still be lower than those from the web. Working with direct clients will become even trickier (they’re likely to adopt native slower than agencies), so the dependency on advertising agencies should increase.

While revenues on the web are still growing, publishers still need to invest in and figure out the mobile, because a shift in advertising budgets might be swifter and sharper than you expect. In all of this, managing the cost of creating content is going to be tricky, but the transition (in terms of advertising, not consumption) will probably be much smoother here than in the US.

Creating content for mobile consumption? That’s another story.


P.s.: Just some random thoughts on the switch to the mobile, not all backed by data. Happy to get counterpoints.