Abid Hussain Barlaskar

"Acquiring users is easy; keeping them on the platform is hard": Umang Bedi, president, Dailyhunt

In its latest film, Dailyhunt, a portal for news and regional language content, busts the bias that English news is more credible than vernacular language news.

Sixteen hundred dialects, 30 widely spoken tongues and 22 official languages, that's where the digital market seems to be heading. A new ad campaign #HarBhashaEqual, by mobile-based news aggregator Dailyhunt, tries to put more muscle behind the increasing shift towards vernacular content.

"Acquiring users is easy; keeping them on the platform is hard": Umang Bedi, president, Dailyhunt

Dailyhunt's latest #HarBhashaEqual campaign

Even the print medium seems to be riding the vernacular wave. While global trends suggest a decline in the circulation of newspapers in countries like USA, UK and Australia, India has seen a steady rise. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC-India), circulation increased from 3.91 crore copies to 6.28 crore between 2006 and 2016. Major growth was clocked by vernacular mediums like Hindi, Telugu and Kannada among others.

"Acquiring users is easy; keeping them on the platform is hard": Umang Bedi, president, Dailyhunt

Bye Bye English, Malayalam Print Media's latest ad

Even internet giants like Amazon and Google are doing their fair share. Amazon is busy teaching its virtual assistant, Alexa, Hindi and regional languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Punjabi. Similarly, Google is also training its Google Assistant to understand commands in vernacular languages.

A Google-KPMG report from 2017 heavily stresses on a forecast that the Indian-language internet-users are set to grow to a whopping 534 million by 2021 at a growth rate of 18 per cent CAGR (compound annual growth rate). The number had grown from 42 million in 2011 to 234 million in 2016.

The study states that 68 per cent of internet users consider local language digital content to be more reliable than English. The report further suggests that as a future trend, internet platforms will move towards content aggregation.

So what is a news aggregator?

The likes of Flipboard, Dailyhunt and Inshorts are news aggregators; digital platforms that bring together news content from multiple sources and curate them in one place. That way, a reader on Dailyhunt's app can read news from multiple sources, in multiple languages, without having to visit them individually on print or digital. On Inshorts, a reader can get a daily dose of news from various providers in crisp 60-word articles.

"Acquiring users is easy; keeping them on the platform is hard": Umang Bedi, president, Dailyhunt

Inshorts' first digital ad film – Time Bomb

afaqs! spoke to Umang Bedi, president, Dailyhunt (former MD, Facebook India and South Asia) to find out more about the company and its latest campaign - #HarBhashaEqual.

"Acquiring users is easy; keeping them on the platform is hard": Umang Bedi, president, Dailyhunt

Umang Bedi

In Bedi's words, the campaign was rooted in multiple realisations of biases within society around or against local languages; the bias versus English. "We've all had personal examples. Many within our team, who are more comfortable with the local language, felt biased against as people have not taken them up with the same sense of credibility, authority or achievement because of their language," Bedi states.

"The campaign aims at highlighting our inbuilt bias for English and against vernacular languages; it seeks the support of India to seek linguistic equality within the country. I think that is really the essence behind the 'Har Bhasha' campaign."

Q. Could you break down Dailyhunt's reader base in terms of language-based users?

In terms of Dailyhunt's reader base, we have over 100 million active readers. Of that, 60 million use the app while the rest use our website. English readers constitute less than 10 per cent of our base.

Our reader base is in line with the linguistic distribution of the Indian population (1.2 billion people). 32 per cent read Hindi which is spoken by 530 million people.

It's followed by a cluster of South Indian languages spoken by 250 million Indians. Next are Marathi and Gujarati, spoken by 150 million, followed by Bengali and Oriya, spoken by 100 million and the rest includes languages like Nepali, Bhojpuri and Urdu.

The average time spent, per daily active user, is 25-30 minutes, more than double the time spent on any other platforms in our genre.

Q. What are the major challenges for an aggregator platform like Dailyhunt?

The challenge is not unique to Dailyhunt and is two-fold - first, the number of devices that are coming into the market. There are about 350-400 million smartphones, which is growing by 30 per cent every year and the internet in India is largely a mobile base. In a country of 1.2 billion, there are only 400 million smartphones. The smartphone growth has to happen even faster. The macro ecosystem challenge of adding more smartphones has to be dealt with.

Secondly, while the ecosystem grows, we have to have more locally relevant content. People are interested in their local content, in their local languages.

Q. Dailyhunt is already providing news in 14 languages. Which other Indian language news can we expect from Dailyhunt in near future?

Our language portfolio already covers 1.1 billion of the total population. We don't see any new inclusion as of now.

Q. How is Dailyhunt going to evolve in the coming days?

We are making a massive pivot towards video content, redesigning the entire application and heading towards a Dailyhunt 2.0. It fulfils our mission to be the largest Indic platform which is empowering the next billion Indians to socialise, discover and consume content that is not only informational but also entertaining. It has to span across multiple genres like astrology, Bollywood, cricket, divinity, and lifestyle. Half of the content consumption on Dailyhunt is news and the rest is entertainment, lifestyle and sports. We are taking all of it and adding video in the same flavours. Video is pervasive and helps in crossing barriers like language and literacy.

Q. Could you shed some light on Dailyhunt's ad-spends and what role advertising plays for the platform?

We don't do too much advertising. 40 to 50 per cent of users come organically, which means they come through instances like referrals from friends and family or they come through links on articles which people might have shared.

It is easy to acquire users; it is very hard to keep them on the platform. Our last ad, a TVC - Indians ka news ka daily dose (2017), was more of an experiment. We haven't really done any TV, outdoor, radio or print campaigns since. We are a tech platform; our focus is on AI and machine learning which plays its role in user retention.

"Acquiring users is easy; keeping them on the platform is hard": Umang Bedi, president, Dailyhunt

Dailyhunt's TVC from the News Ka Daily Dose campaign

#HarBhashaEqual is not about driving traffic to Dailyhunt, it's about driving the right sense of awareness within the ecosystem that an issue like this exists.

Getting back to the campaign, it did remind us of the days when we used to value an imported US or UK-made product more than Indian counterparts.

In the film, real achievers are coupled with impersonators. Both, the real and the fake speak on stage, conveying the real person's achievements. While the real speaks in a native, vernacular tongue, the fake speaks in English. Later, when asked, a significant part of the audience sitting off-stage, declared that they found the impersonators (English speakers) more convincing and credible.

Moreover, with ads, Dailyhunt and Inshorts, apart from turning out to be major platforms for content and news consumption, might actually turn out to be a new segment of advertisers themselves.

We spoke with industry experts to get their take:-

"Acquiring users is easy; keeping them on the platform is hard": Umang Bedi, president, Dailyhunt

Karthik Srinivasan

Karthik Srinivasan, communication consultant, opines that the campaign will help Dailyhunt make a broad point of interest in India's regional languages, but then, the ad film also goes on to portray the same people in a not-so-charitable light.

"The pride in our regional languages need not be demonstrated at the cost of liking or knowing another language (English, in this case). Both can co-exist," Srinivasan says.

"I really like the core idea. Juxtaposing a regional language statement with an English translation did confuse me and had me wondering what they are aiming for. But the conclusion is very strong and mirrors our general attitude towards our regional languages vs English," he adds.

"However, the kind of people who may see English as more credible may not be the most appropriate target audience for Dailyhunt, in my view. The beyond-English market for Dailyhunt includes people who use WhatsApp and Facebook in their own language and are very proud of their mother tongue. I feel this communication addresses a much smaller segment of English-first Indians, given it seems to portray lovers of regional languages as making the wrong choice. Whereas, lovers of regional languages (and hence, people with good knowledge of those languages) should ideally be the core target audience of this video," Srinivasan opines.

Speaking about news aggregators as a new segment of advertisers, Srinivasan says, "It's totally understandable that news aggregators like Dailyhunt are advertising. They most definitely need to. If mainstream can advertise for themselves in their own media (Times NOW advertising in TOI, for instance, and every other media house advertising their reach using IRS and BARC numbers) why not news aggregators."

Navin Kansal, chief creative officer, 21N78E Creative Labs, considers the ad film an interesting take on the language bias that is prevalent in India.

"Acquiring users is easy; keeping them on the platform is hard": Umang Bedi, president, Dailyhunt

Navin Kansal

"It is an interesting take on how judgmental we tend to get in labelling whether a person is an achiever or not simply on the basis of how articulate they are in English. Given its multi-lingual content feed, the idea is pretty much at the core of what Dailyhunt does. The connection nicely comes through in the end with 'HarBhashaEqual on Dailyhunt'. Although it would have been good to mention, in passing perhaps, all the languages in which Dailyhunt offers its content," he says.

"It's not been the case that news aggregators have never really advertised their wares. But given that every brand seems to stand for a 'purpose' these days, this is an instance of a brand which has been opportunistic enough, in a good way, to take the high ground on equality of languages and create further equity for itself," Kansal adds with regard to content aggregators as an advertiser segment.