नमस्ते – 2016 will be the Year when Digital finally goes truly Vernacular.


As the year is coming to end, I was thinking about the Digital trend which we should watch out for in the coming year. After much thought, I figured that one trend which is gaining some momentum and expected to become mainstream in 2016.The trend which I am talking about is the vernacular internet.

Booming Vernacular Press

Having been instrumental in creating the Hindi version of  SportsKeeda I know that for a major section of public the native language is what they are most comfortable even they may have a decent exposure to English. In fact, we saw a better growth and consumption stats @Sportkeeda for the Hindi version of  the same content in  WWE ,Football & Cricket too.

Another trend which can be observed is the rapid rise in vernacular newspapers in India (, 12-14% YoY for Vernacular vs 6-7% Yoy for English).  This means that even after getting basic education people are more comfortable in vernacular languages. This is against a global trend of decline in print media which means that the there is a latent demand which needs to be serviced by going vernacular. To satiate this demand, we are having newer newspapers and news channels coming up every year. I know that there are over 6-7 Kannada news channels with produce 24 hours news while there are probably as many GEC (General Entertainment) channels in Kannada. This is the same with most south Indian languages where the education % is high compared to the national average. There is a strong correlation between increasing education levels to consumption of vernacular news either in terms of print or TV.

Vernacular NewsThriving on Digital Mediums too

It is not only the print media  & TV which is making huge strides. The vernacular content is also making huge gains on Digital media over the past 3-4 years. With Dainik Jagran entering into an exclusive tie-up with Yahoo to publish its Hindi content on Jagaran.com and on Yahoo platforms enabling people to consume Hindi content. But the biggest win has been the NewsHunt app which has close to 95(as per company) million installs and publishes content in 12+ languages with content from 175+ publications. All this while we are yet to see mainstream  English news apps cross 2-3 million downloads. NDTV App has between 1-5 million downloads on Google play while NewsHunt(now DailyHunt) has 10 million -50 million downloads.  This shows what is the demand and scale at which vernacular offers opportunities on Digital.

Booming Data connections in India

The other aspect is the booming internet users in India. As per IAMAI ( Internet & Mobile Association) we have 354 million internet users mostly driven by mobile usage. But the total number of people who can understand English & speak it  as per several studies stands at 125 million.Thus we have more than 240 million people who are on internet but are not comfortable with English, thus representing a huge market.

Challenges to Go Vernacular

It has been mostly  a case of chicken and egg all these years, but there exist a few challenges in making vernacular mainstream.

  • One of the main challenges is the need for standardizing the fonts across all apps and the ability of those fonts to render across devices. This has been solved with the emergence of Unicode for most languages. In addition, Google has been spreading the standardization via its “Indian Languages Internet Alliance (ILIA)“. This is supported by most major publishers in India.
  • The second is the ability to write Hindi content by the general public. This is critical as media these days is a two-way media and needs people to participate in discussions. This part too is now solved by solutions like Quilpad which offers the ability to write in any Indian language by using the QWERTY keyboards and the output would be in Unicode. In addition, I would like to mention Reverie ‘s android keyboards which allow people to type in their preferred local languages.

Given that, these challenges which were impeding the spread of vernacular content and services have been solved. I think it is time for it to go mainstream.

Case for Services to go Vernacular

The news industry is taking the lead in going vernacular, I think they real trend which we should look for in 2016 is that of services going vernacular.  During the last week, I spoke to a couple of people at Babajob which serves as a channel for the underbelly of India (blue collared) find jobs. This platform  serves driver, maids, delivery boys, nurses etc to find their next job. This is the segment who has some English speaking skills, but most do have regional language reading skills. Given this Babajob, this it is no surprise that most of the hiring in Babajob happens over the phone, thus warranting them to have a massive call center setup of 400+ agents to handle the initial inquiries and matching jobs. Most of the calls are handled in local languages.Babajob can clearly take the vernacular route and cut costs in call center service and also make the service more efficient and not having to depend on the call center.We can already see changes with Quikr launching versions supporting seven different languages– Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati and Marathi. This is a step in the right direction.

The change while being lead by the news genre and other apps which are serving the mass market (like Babajob & Quikr)  it will soon spread to e-commerce and other services for sure. From my inside information, Tally is busy developing its Hindi version of its award-winning Tally ERP 9 package.  As I am writing this Snapdeal has promised to make it possible to browse their e-commerce website in 12 different languages on 26th Jan on its mobile website.

2016 will thus year when Brands will finally say नमस्ते to a vastly underserved market !

Do let me know your views on the same. Would love to hear how you guys think that this scene will emerge and what new unicorns are built with this revolution. Am betting that we will see some super brands emerge out of this in the coming couple of years.

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