India and the Internet

I read a report by Akamai recently on the state of the internet. Before i start on that, I have to share the wonderful experience I had with Akamai. It didnt start out very well, because i was being sent around in loops of ‘check your email and click the link’. The link asked me to register, and sent me off to my mailbox. i stopped after some 5 attempts, and sent them a mail. Thankfully, got a reponse in an hour’s time, and not a link this time, but the report itself. And this level of service for a free download.

India doesnt get mentioned in too many places, so the JuxtConsult report seems to be the best source of data. ET had an article on that a few days back. The urban penetration of the net has reached double figures finally. While the metros still account for a large portion of the net users, a staggering majority (70%) prefer to use the net in regional languages.

As compared to the mass media that currently rule the roost in india, the net is a much more fragmented medium, even including TV, with its regional programming, and some niche channels. Perhaps because while language is one paramenter of segmenting, the net offers segmentation basis interests and has a more long tail view on the content front. That is unlikely to change, since I would think the costs of running a channel, and running a site would differ hugely, which basically means that there is a minimum mass that a channel has to look at – it can’t go too niche, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem with a site.

Even though internet penetration is still at a relatively nascent stage, does that 70% mentioned above clearly show the trend that the net is going to take in India. If so, India is again poised to change the way things function. I’m sure the global personnel of McDonalds would’ve asked ‘WTF is an aloo tikki and why should we have it in the menu anyway’. I’m also sure, there would be a case study on it by now. The answer is of course, is being implemented.

While the figures do show tremendous potential, it threw up a few questions for me. One, how soon will the numbers reach a critical mass for the niche players to emerge in large numbers and still be financially viable? Will these new consumers behave like a typical net consumer or a typical Indian customer or will we manage to create a typically new and unique entity? In a well connected India, how will this affect brands and their communication – will the categorisation of brands offline (as niche vs mass) be retained on the net, or will the sheer numbers turn this on its head. Consider a small example – A Tommy Hilfiger can afford to communicate the same way across India, its TG is comfortable with English as a communication langauge. In the offline space, it perhaps is a niche brand, but will the aggregation of users across the country on the net make it a ‘mass’ brand? A mass brand – Vodafone has two kinds of ads that I’ve seen for the ‘Dehradun didi’ – Irfan in Hindi and Prakash Raj in the South. Maybe it doesnt make sense for them to make one for each state now. But given the spectacular growth of mobile users, it might happen soon. Now look at it from an internet communication standpoint, in a later time when the net population is much more, because of the regional usage of the internet, would the (say) Kannada version of Vodafone be a ‘niche’ communication?

I think it is safe to say that the internet, its dynamics and its economics will get moulded to a uniquely Indian way of functioning. Considering India’s market size, the impact of this in the overall netscape remains to be seen.

until next time, the elephant and the web

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