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Amar Ujala 101 Markets: English will maintain its prominence, while regional language media grows exponentially

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | September 20, 2010
Usage of English is preferred when it comes to education and work; but media consumption at home slants towards regional languages

In a panel discussion at the event, '101 Markets…India beyond the Metros', the topic of discussion was, 'English rule: The challenge from Hindi'. Panellists discussed the dominance of English and the growth of Hindi and other regional languages, in media such as print and television.

The session was moderated by Amit Baruah, head, BBC Hindi. The panellists comprised eminent personalities from the fields of media, marketing and journalism, namely Neeraj Sanan, VP - marketing, MCCS; Madan Mohapatra, chief - marketing, Future Group; Divya Gururaj, managing director, MediaCom India; and Prajjal Saha, deputy editor, afaqs!.

Baruah kicked off the discussion, pointing out that he has been an English journalist for most of his career, and now handles Hindi news for BBC. This has made his friends and colleagues question 'why' he chose to do so. Thus, he said, the issue of language has been very significant in India.

He shared that of the top 20 big newspapers in India, only two are in English. "English is seen as the language to climb," he said, but added that growth will and is happening in Hindi and regional languages.

Sanan of MCCS, who handles the marketing of three channels -- STAR News (Hindi), STAR Bangla and STAR Mazha (Marathi) -- pointed out that while these channels are in local languages, their news focus is still national and not regional, as is often misunderstood. These channels also carry the responsibility of affecting the mindset of society.

He pointed out that if one clubs together the seven or eight English news channels in India; their reach is 5 five per cent less than that of STAR News (Hindi) alone. "But when it comes to ad costs, English channels walk away with 400-500 per cent premium costs, as compared to a Hindi news channel. If a brand wants to make it big, it needs to look at regional."

Gururaj of MediaCom felt that this subject should not even be debated, as regional languages undoubtedly have a bigger hold than English. She cited IRS reports that Hindi dailies add many more readers as compared to English dailies each year.

Rajasthan Patrika, Dainik Bhaskar, Jagran and Sakal are all booming, as they launch new editions in smaller cities and towns. Regional channels are growing month on month, and they are all performing well, she stated.

Discussing the top 10 dailies, she shared that the only English one is The Times of India, while amongst the nine others, four are Hindi and the others are in vernacular languages. Also, Dainik Jagran is the largest read newspaper in the country.

Gazing into the crystal ball, she pointed out three key trends. The first was that India reflects heterogeneity and homogeneity at the same time. "Metros are becoming more homogeneous, with larger English speaking populations, similar troubles such as traffic; while there are pockets of heterogeneity where English is still very distant."

Second, there's a growing sense of pride in being Indian. She cited that when she visited a discotheque in her younger days, only English music used to be played there; whereas these days, Hindi and Bollywood music rules the charts at discos.

Third, media is becoming personalized. People are comfortable speaking in English at work; but once they return home, they like to communicate and consume media in regional and vernacular languages.

"Hindi shows garner high ratings; while channels like STAR World and Zee Café are still niche, receiving about Rs 500 per 10 seconds. Whereas, a KBC on Sony commands Rs 3 lakh for the same amount of time," she said.

Other brands and marketers have also begun understanding the potential of regional dailies and channels. For instance, MediaCom's automobile client, Audi entered India through advertising only in The Times of India; but has now moved to other language newspapers as well, because they've realized that's how their customers can be reached.

Saha made the point that with regional languages, there is a sense of ownership. "When it comes to Hindi, it has a more national spread and belongs to no specific state; hence, the ownership is not as strong," he said, adding, "But on the flip side, the huge gap between the people willing to read regional and actually reading it has been filled by Hindi dailies."

From a marketer's perspective, Future Group's Mohapatra took the dais, where he made a brief presentation on a Future Group case study. He shared that in the year 2010, of the Future Group's top-line, 51 per cent has come from metros. This is a drop as compared to 2007, when a whopping 77 per cent came from the metros. Significantly, the group's top-line grew from 9 to 22 per cent in mini metros, and 14 to 33 per cent in non-metros, between 2007 and 2010.

Correspondingly, the investments in media made in 2007 versus 2010 have gone down in the metros from 85 to 66 per cent. However, in the same period, investments in mini-metros have increased from 10 to 12 per cent; and from 5 to 22 per cent in non-metros.

"Big Bazaar's top-line in some mini metros is comparable to some of the big metros," he said, adding, "We moved from share of market to share of mind, and now to share of heart, where they need to be spoken to in the language they are most comfortable in."

But MCCS' Sanan pointed out that while share of heart translates to eyeballs, it doesn't translate to share of 'wallet'. "How do we get respect from advertisers whom we depend on so much?" he questioned.

Coming back to print, Baruah of BBC pointed out that India is the largest market for print with 110 million copies being sold daily, followed closely by China's 109 million copies. In comparison, the US sees sales of about 46 million copies. "Will this growth continue or will there be a cap to it?" he quizzed the panellists.

Gururaj opined that India is one of the most profitable markets for the print medium and this is attributed to literacy. Smart publications are cashing in on this, capturing the literacy boom.

Moving to digital, she shared an excerpt from her discussion with Microsoft's CEO, Steve Ballmer, where it came up that the English language barrier was the reason for low Internet penetration in India. "Thus, the next boom of Internet will also be in vernacular languages, I believe."

Here, an audience member shared that when it came to blogs, there were only about 500 regional language and Hindi blogs in 2007, compared to the 25,000 plus today; and this boom is attributed to the entry of regional and Hindi fonts that has allowed people's participation to grow.

Gururaj summed up the discussion by saying that English as a language is preferred when it comes to education and work; but media consumption at home definitely tilts towards regional languages.

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