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Desi read: These entrepreneurs bring regional languages to your smartphone

India was one country where mobile phones lost their elite identity pretty fast. It did not take long before almost every household in urban and semi-urban India owned at least one. But with that spread, came another challenge-of language.

India has a total of 122 local languages as per the 2001 Census. According to Vernacular Report 2012 by IAMAI and IMRB, there are 45 million mobile phone users who access content on the internet in their local language.

"In 2001, mobile phones were becoming mainstream and people who owned them knew English," says Arvind Pani, CEO and Co-Founder, Reverie Technologies. Reverie is a product company that provides language as a service to digital device manufacturers, application developers and multiple language content providers. According to Pani, 500 million people in India usemobile phones just for voice calls.

 Desi read: These entrepreneurs bring regional languages to your smartphone

Oneindia's Sriram Hebbar and BG Mahesh. Image: bmaximage

"A simple thing like accessing the contact list in a local language on mobile phones is not possible in India," Pani adds, who started the company with S K Mohanty and sibling Vivekanand Pani. At Reverie, the trio provides technical support as well as services for creating user interface and content in multiple languages. "To device manufacturers,we charge them on per unit licensing basis; and to content and app developers, a monthly or annual subscription is charged," says Pani. Reverie's technology supports 46 languages around the world and Pani says there is a lot of demand for such services from countrieslike Thailand, Bangladesh, Middle East and Sri Lanka.

Rising demand
Seeing the rise in demand in regional language content, B G Mahesh started Oneindia, a multiple language news portal in 2006. Mahesh says that back when he started, the news portal used to get 92-95 percent of traffic from US alone. "We got a lot of homesick NRIreaders," says B G Mahesh, Founder, Oneindia, in which netCore took a majority stake in 2010. But now the portal gets 60 percent of their traffic from India.

Oneindia provides news in eight languages: English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Gujarati and Kannada. Sriram Hebbar, CEO, Oneindia, believes the future of digitalwill be driven by language. "We have started to see a lot of traction coming from Tier II and Tier III towns."

News Hunt, a mobile app which digitally aggregates newspaper contents of different languages and is said to be India's answer to Flipboard, says that 95 percent of their users read regional language newspapers. Started in 2009 by Chandu Sohoni (who left the company later) and Umesh Kulkarni, News Hunt's parent company Eterno Infotech was acquired by Ver Se Innovations in March 2012.

Vishal Anand, Product Head, News Hunt, says that the availability of fonts do become a problem in providing regional language content. "Some languages get supported, some don't. However, we support 11 languages on our platform."

Show me the money
News Hunt works on a revenue share model with 19 newspapers that are listed on its app, which is available on Android, Windows and iOS. The company claims to have 30 million users.

"We see that users first read news in their regional language and then move on to English newspapers," says Anand.

News Hunt is betting bigger on this market with their recent launch of e-books in different languages.

The company aims to re-direct its legion of newspaper readers towards e-books. "The regional language market has a very poor distribution model and there is a technical problem of digitizing them-in some cases we are typing out the whole book. But it's a good consumer problem to solve and a viable business prospect," says Anand.

Source: *2012 IAMAI and IMRB, Vernacular Report , **2013 IAMAI and IMRB, i-Cube Report. Image: Entrepreneur India

Source: *2012 IAMAI and IMRB, Vernacular Report , **2013 IAMAI and IMRB, i-Cube Report. Image: Entrepreneur India

As regional language content providers typically get huge traffic from specific regions, it becomes easier for brands to better target their advertising. "By 2011-12, we started seeing a lot of advertisers wanting to advertise in different languages," says Oneindia's Hebbar.

According to News Hunt, Idea, the telecom provider advertised on News Hunt in different languages, which the aggregator claims saw almost 50 percent more clicks compared to the English ads. Anand however says that the mobile advertising model is still not fullyevolved in terms of ad rates and revenues. "We think in the next year or so, the ad rates will go up seeing the results of online advertising," he says

This article first appeared in Entrepreneur India magazine.

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Updated Date: Feb 18, 2014 13:12:45 IST