While there is a lot of chatter around the vast base of Indian language content consumers, the real question is, whether there is enough non-English content to feed them and is there a steady revenue stream to sustain content creators/publishers. This session at the latest edition of afaqs! Digipub World revolved around the Indian language content ecosystem and the monetisation game.
The session's panelists included Anand Makhija, director business development, Outbrain; Himanshu Gautam, business head - Digital, Amar Ujala Group; Ramakrishnan Laxman, head of digital, ABP News; Supriya Paul, director and co-founder, JOSH Talks. The session was moderated by Ashwini Gangal, executive editor, afaqs!.
So, when it comes to bringing native Indian speakers online and keeping them well-fed with the right combination of content, who is to lead the charge? Is it the content creators/publishers, advertisers or are there other invisible factors?
Anand Makhija from Outbrain initiated by saying, "The onus lies on both publishers and advertisers. Content feeds and ads in native languages are more impactful. We (Outbrain) recommend advertisers to make creatives in specific languages for the available Indian language inventory. A native language ad has better CTR (click through rate) but after clicking the ad the user reaches an English landing page of the brand leading to a high bounce rate."
Amar Ujala's Himanshu Gautam thinks that the onus of providing interesting content for people to consume definitely lies on the publisher. "A major chunk of online searches are coming from Tier 2 and smaller towns as people are connected and they want to have options. With more help we can provide our readers, the more interested they will be to come back to our properties."
Gautam further mentions that Hindi readers need more guidance than English readers as they are new to the internet and the content has to be simple to consume in all ways.
Ramakrishnan Laxman from ABP News, adds, "Despite being present in five Indian languages, ABP enjoys the advantage of video that cuts across the literacy barrier and consumption has being growing. India doesn't have historical data and reference points written in Indian languages. We have a lot of news content but there is a lot of historical information that needs to get online. Even the government needs to play a role here."
Sharing her bit, JOSH Talks' Supriya Paul adds, "While the internet today has its fair share of news and entertainment content in Indian languages, there are few publishers catering to career or educational content. So, it is also the responsiblity of the publisher to cater to the new internet users and decide what they get to see."
Josh Talks hosts video content in nine Indian languages with a small share being published in English.
But when it comes to native language content, there are three primary problems — advertising/monetisation, the content ecosystem and the immature nature of the content consumer base with little data about them. So ho do publishers deal with it?
Gautam responds saying, "Native language users are new and need hand-holding. Monetisation has been a big challenge and things haven't changed much in the last few years. There has been an increase in demand for new formats and native ads." He elaborates that Amar Ujala has stayed away from content discovery platforms like Outbrain to avoid any change in experience. It would stay that away until the ecosystem was ready for the native language users with landing pages, etc. "But, investments and innovations have to continue as there are new users coming in. We have to resort to other measures to keep the money coming in," he says.
He maintains that the developments that have come about due to platforms such as Google and Amazon are not sufficient and a lot more needs to happen. "The government can play a role by developing the accessibility of government websites and the information available there," he adds.
Laxman adds, "From the video perspective, there has been an excess of inventory. Video ads are being created in Indian languages but from the banner ad perspective, there hasn't been much change."
Paul reveals that Josh Talks started monetising recently and has been building the brand first. "We've see a demand or a need for videos in vernacular. Advertisers would want content not only in Hindi but other Indian languages as opposed to English content. But the problem is the rate defined per viewer is really low because of the SEC segments that they put the viewers in as opposed to English. It's a game of persistence," she adds.
She reveals that Josh Talks had to shut down it's Gujarati content due to overlapping of content consumption habits. Gujarati viewers were familiar with Hindi and Marathi content too. "Also, YouTube's recommendation engines work that well for Marathi at the moment," she explains.
Speaking on the gaps from the content discovery point of view, Outbrain's Makhija explains, "It is long journey and there is a large audience thanks to catalysts like Jio and low cost smartphones, but we need to get more supply (content) in place."