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PubNation: Actually, local languages are not a discovery of digital era

The hyperlocal capabilities of print players’ digital arms need to be monetised better.

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NEW DELHI: It was in 1492 that Columbus, with his three ships – the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria – set out from Spain to seek the riches of the Indies. He sailed towards the west for days altogether, his crew getting restless with no land in sight. It was nearly a month later that they reached a new continent, America. What followed were three more tips and lots of exploration. Columbus believed that he had discovered America. But that was certainly not the case. He had only introduced the new world to western Europe. 

You must be wondering how that story matters here. Well, it does, because for the past few months, many marketers and experts have been claiming that they have discovered the potential regional languages have in India; to promote businesses and increase sales. But is that really the case?

Vikatan Group MD B Srinivasan (Srini) opines that the saga of the industry discovering regional languages and its potential is quite similar to the tale of Columbus discovering America. “It is not something new. We Indians have always been doing our own thing and we are really good at some of them. The advertisers or the agency can’t really say that they discovered it because there is already some great work happening in that space,” he said at the recently concluded PubNation, hosted by Indiantelevision.com in partnership with Quintype and Gamezop. 

He aired this view during a panel discussion on the state of the local language market in India. Moderated by Wavemaker India chief growth officer and south head Kishankumar Shyamalan, the session was also attended by Punjab Kesari Group of Newspapers director Abhijay Chopra, Lokmat Media Ltd editorial director Rishi Darda, Mathrubhumi director - digital business Mayura Shreyams Kumar, and Eenadu general manager - marketing Sushil Kumar Tyagi. 

Srini added, “India has always been a land of multiple diversity and we have been doing a fabulous job (in the regional markets). I am very happy that brands are now beginning to see that with print too. It was always very different when TV came in. Regional television has always taken the lead when compared to English channels. However, that still hasn't changed with English newspapers.”

It was rightfully pointed out by Srini. The Broadcast Audience Research Association (BARC) report stated that the viewership of regional channels grew from 15 per cent in 2016 to 23 per cent in 2019. Meanwhile, Hindi channels saw a viewership increase of 31 per cent in the same period. 

Tyagi supported Srini’s thoughts while also sharing some insights. “We launched our Telugu-language news channel in 1995 and penetrated around 30 per cent of overall India. In Andhra Pradesh, we claimed 90 per cent of the audience. Similarly, when we were planning to launch ETV Bangla in 1999, everyone told us that it will not work as Bengal is a prominent part of the HSM (Hindi-speaking market). But we got a phenomenal response from there too.” 

He added that with Eenadu.net, they are getting great engagement from the NRI community, which goes to show how important regional languages are for Indians. 

Darda chipped in, “You can look at some interesting data points from a global perspective. If you look at the largest news consumption area, which is the United States, and then look at the top 10 news sites there, eight of them are actually part of either a newspaper group or a television group. Whether it is CNN, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Post. Only two, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, are independent. Of course, they both are now owned by the same company. Now when you look at the top 10 most read newspapers in India, there's only one English newspaper. The other nine are actually regional local language newspapers. So the future is very clearly going to be with that credible language.” 

He advised that for any brand, it is extremely important to understand the local nuances and culture. In between the pages is where the opportunity lies in the form of hyperlocal targeting.

Chopra agreed and noted that Punjab Kesari Group is now decentralising its language offerings with hyperlocal content. “We have been in the market since 1948 and the audience was always there. Now, with digital, we are getting even deeper into the markets. If we just talk about Hindi, there are so many different dialects depending upon the region. So, I have hired a Haryanavi-speaking jaat for our digital channels, who reads the news for that region. I can’t even understand fully what he is saying, but the audience numbers went through the roof. Similarly, we are getting someone native from Himachal Pradesh, who will read the news for the region in their own language.” 

All these people will be working from their home states permanently, creating a new form of organisational structure that is more agile. 

In the same vein, Kumar pointed out that Mathrubhumi, too, is diversifying its digital presence as the importance of regional content is amplified now. “We are playing around with a lot of audio and video formats, which is getting us a lot of engagement. User-generated content and network-driven insights, both remain in our focus. We are not digital-first yet, as 85 million people still subscribe to our papers, but the transformation is really happening.”

The panel opined that marketers and agency personnel should really spend more time in discovering and investing in the hyperlocal capabilities that these digital arms of print publications are equipped with. This will help them in connecting better with their consumers. 

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