India had 481 million internet users at the end of 2017, according to a report by industry body Internet And Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). It finds that indic content is a major driver for potential users, and up to 70% of current users consume indic content.

The report also points to the popularity of audio and video content for entertainment, as 68% of the usage is for such content. Nearly 23% of all non-users consider indic content a key motivator to get online. At the same time, critical services such as banking, search and others have usage at 20% even in urban areas.

The report is based on annual survey exercise I-cube (Internet in India) by KANTAR-IMRB, a market research firm.

Indic content

The report argues that language is one of the most crucial factors in internet penetration, especially in India as 88% of its population is non-English speaking. It establishes that China has the highest number of internet users in the world, driven by its use of mandarin on the internet. While Chinese is the second-most-popular language, Indic content accounts for only 0.1% of all content on the internet.

In rural India, 76% current users access the internet in Indic languages, and there is a potential to 732 million new such users. Similarly, urban areas have 160 million potential Indic users.

Indic content has mass appeal: it is most popular with users above 45 years, with 78% share. The preference decreases by age, being least popular in the age group below 15 years, but even here it holds more than half (58%) of the share.

Audio and video streaming

As more and more users increase internet consumption driven by the availability of cheap data, audio and video content is being favoured. It is the most likely use case for indic language, with 68% preferring it. This is followed by email and text chats used by half of all respondents, possibly due to the popularity of WhatsApp. After this come news and other entertainment applications, and social networking sites are the fifth most popular type of applications. Services like ticket booking, job search, banking are among the less-preferred types of applications.

Seeing the popularity of indic video and audio content, most content providers are responding by diversifying their offering. Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Viu, VOOT, AltBalaji, have regional content on their platforms. Many are also looking to create originals in indic languages. Recently, a Bengali-specific video streaming service Hoichoi was also launched. A variety of language choices seems to be essential in scaling up usage for such platforms.

“Given the relatively low penetration of English beyond the metros, especially among the economically weaker sections of the society, internet penetration cannot grow without addressing the issue of the language of access for internet services,” the IAMAI report concludes.

“Going forward, URLs, domain names, key tags, indexing etc have to be promoted in indic to make the entire digital interface more user friendly,” it adds.