Is the lack of Indian language content hindering the growth of Internet in India?

Last Friday (March 14, 2008) exchange4Media held a conclave in Bangalore. The theme was “Digital 2.0”. Janakiraman Murugavel, founder & CEO, was the Keynote speaker [Presentation]. He spoke about “Will Digital be the next TV in India anytime soon”. Few points he made were,

  • At some point of time Internet advertising will overtake advertising on TV in India (very few in the audience agreed with this view)
  • Watching TV on your PC will not happen anytime soon (IPTV etc). I agree.
  • Internet has 100,000+ advertisers spending Rs 10,000 per month. But TV has less than 10,000 advertisers who spend Rs 10,000,000 [$250k] per month. Good and useful observation.
  • TV advertising was very expensive. Before it hits the tube you got to spend big monies on the production and you can’t change the creatives that easily. Whereas on the net, you could change the creatives as quick as you want and take it to the websites in real time. My view, we need both forms of advertising but TV advertising is only for those who are well funded.
  • Google Adsense and Google Adwords has helped publishers and site owners in a big way in India. Agreed.

The Panelists comprised of,

Each one is a guru in their own way. Always good to hear about “real” experiences instead of “theory”. The discussion was moderated by Abhijit Saxena, CEO, Netcore. I wasn’t aware Abhijit was participating. Just that day Netcore had released a PR about their tieup with Oneindia in the Indian language+SMS space. Highlights from the discussion,

  • India has 2.5-3 million broadband connections, 40 million internet users. Does this figure account for those who access the net behind a firewall? For e.g. are thousands of IT workers in Infosys counted as “one user” as employees from the same location could be using the same IP (does that mean the IT-pink slips will not affect the 40 million count?)
  • If a user logs in once a month how can you count him as an active user? Me: But then there are many who use the net way too often, so I guess it averages out to some extent
  • Advertisers are hesitant or not “bullish” about internet advertising. Who is supposed to impress this advertiser? The publisher (site owner) or the media agency? Me: It should be both. Media agencies should convince themselves about the publisher and go all the way to sell that space. If Media Agencies don’t do that they will lose out more and more clients (site owners) to Google AdSense.
  • The topic of Mobile internet did come up. One of the panelists said India will not get 3G, instead we may go directly to beyond 3G/4G.
  • Indian surfers are no different from others. Adult sites get a big chunk of page views from India. Abhijit asked the panelists, “Would any of your clients be comfortable advertising on Adult sites?” Sudha said yes, to which Abhijit quickly asked “Which client is that???”, she replied “A condom company”.
  • There aren’t enough Indian language sites on the internet. India is a non-English speaking country. The net needs to address these non-English speaking user base. Countries like China don’t have a single English site, all are in Chinese.
    Me: Point noted but India is different. Indians will consume content both in English and their native language. We will not dump one for the other.

My views are,

  • Folks have been very hard on the prospects of internet advertising in India. It is the safest form in my opinion. You always have an option to go by a CPC [cost per click] campaign. An advertiser pays only when a user visits your site. Do you have that option in Print, TV, Radio or even when you use hoardings?
  • People keep harping about internet advertising pie is way too small in India. How old is the Internet in India? The real impact is being seen only from 2004 or 2005. How old are Print, TV, Radio, Hoardings in India? Older than me for sure.
  • There are enough advertisers for the internet in India today. What is hurting is the slow penetration. PCs need to get cheaper, software needs to be far cheaper (especially Microsoft OS), broadband needs to be cheaper (a few days ago BSNL announced an entry-level broadband package at Rs 125 per month – kudos). Telcos, especially BSNL, need to pay attention to providing “good bandwidth” to home users outside metros. People who are between a Tier-I and Tier-II cities are the ones who suffer the most. They are neither here or there. For e.g. Residential users in Bangalore (Tier-I) and Mysore (Tier-II) have good connectivity. Just a few kilometres from Bangalore is a place called Hoskote (houses many textile, chemical industries) – their only option for connectivity is BSNL broadband which keeps disconnecting.
  • Difficulty in typing Indian languages on the net has absolutely nothing to do with the growth of the internet in India. We Indians at this point of time are voracious readers but not writers. How many of us have a “burning desire” to write about our holiday experience on a blog? Very few. So at this point in time users want to read Indian language content. Yes, not everyone is comfortable typing Indian language on a PC, so what suffers is applications like email, not language content portals like Language blogs in India are doing reasonably well. There are over 4,000 active blogs in Tamil and Hindi each. What does this mean? The “writers” are on the rise – both English and non-English.
  • There was a point on time when advertisers strictly told us to run their banners only on English parts of our site (this was in 2002). But now every advertiser has no problem in being seen on our language channels. Hey, if advertisers don’t have a problem being seen on pornographic sites, you will agree with me that they will not have a problem advertising on language sites.
  • There are good language sites out there. Don’t say the content in Print and the web is the same. The topic could and will be the same at times but the style is different. You will see that on the language channels of – we write content keeping the online reader in mind – he/she likes things to be short and precise.


  1. Hmm…
    There are times that I feel there is a lot of disconnect between all the three involved in internet advetising..advertiser, marketer and the viewer/audience..

    I guess the biggest problem is not language, but just the apporach that people take towards marketing on the web.. for instance.. pornographic sites though a good place for condom ads can also be best places for advertising job sites..and PPC ads would mean that while a certians et of audience is targetted the brand is kept clean.. but the stigmata towarde th nature fo the website, and an infelxible attitude to think beyond the obvious affects the success ratio of internet advertising..

    and a word though about the rise of multi lingual blogs.. one has to actually see the involvement these blogs create int erms of commenting and activity of the blog author before comparign it with existing english blogs.. most of them to my mind is out there as a result of people wanting to try it out.. than an actual need to write in a local tongue..

    at te moment i think it is safe to presume that internet users aren\\\\\\\’t looking forward to regional languages on the web.. for one thing.. enlgish can be used to type out the local dialects with comparative ease.. aiyo for instance..

  2. Hi Mahesh,

    Thanks for sharing details of the proceedings and your views. I personally believe that we will need local language for this medium to take off. An example would be satellite TV, which really only took off once we had regional channels. Similarly for FM radio, it is still largely a metro centric phenomenon, and will become mass only if local language content increases.

  3. Rohit Maloo was killed in Mumbai terror attacks last week

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