The Next Billion Series: Digital India

The Next Billion is a three-part series examining the impact and opportunities created by the explosive growth of the connected world. Read the 1st article of the series

There are only two countries in the world with a population of more than one billion people: China and India. From a digital adoption standpoint, India’s growth rate and potential are staggering. The smartphone adoption rate has grown by 186% since 2013. And while there are 900 million mobile phones in the country, only 10% of them have an internet connection. That leaves a potential market of up to 810 million more smartphones to sell and deliver services and content. When you combine that with the fact that 75% of India’s population is under the age of 35 and that the UN estimates that roughly one million people join the workforce each month and move from rural to urban settings, you have a significant consumer store brewing. But what kind of opportunities does this create for Canadian digital media producers?

To date, most of the Canadian-Indian digital success stories have been more in the areas of hardware and technology development. Take Jigsee for instance, a Canadian company founded by Ray Newal in 2009 and sold to Vuclip in 2011. Jigsee was a clever piece of technology that enabled ordinary mobile phones to access video content. More recently, Datawind has developed a tablet that sells for less than fifty Canadian dollars and targets primarily the Indian market. While these are great Canadian success stories, if you are like most digital media producers, your focus is on developing content first and technology second.

Digital Bollywood and beyond

You can’t talk about the content industry in India without mentioning Bollywood. It’s the world’s most prolific cinema factory, producing 1,000 films annually—nearly double Hollywood’s output. Undoubtedly the rapid adoption of digital technologies will help connect India’s population to this content. If you look online in India, you will notice that YouTube, the most popular online video platform in the country, ranks the major Bollywood movie and music studios as its top content partners. Tseries, a Bollywood music label, tops the list with 6 million subscribers and music videos that get anywhere from 500,000 to 50 million views. However, not unlike North America, more independent YouTube creators and Multi-Channel Networks are on the rise. According to Quartz, emerging YouTube channels like All India Bakchod and The Viral Fever are closing deals with Bollywood celebrities and increasing their presence. Also, multi-channel networks such as NirvanaYobohoCulture Machine and Ping Network are emerging as online content boutiques.

Given the cultural specificity of Bollywood content and the marketplace’s existing production capacity, as a Canadian digital producer looking to work with the Indian content market, I would hesitate to place my bets on a digital strategy centred around online entertainment content. I would instead place my bets on developing content for the emerging tablet and smartphone markets in India. Currently, according to the mobile intelligence site App Annie, Facebook owns the top four free apps not only in India but also around the world: WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram. The top 10 free apps in India are rounded out by a few utility apps, a couple of e-commerce apps and some gaming apps. The top grossing apps to date in India are all gaming apps that include Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Teen Patti and Boom Beach. All but one of these games were created by foreign companies which have grown into multi-billion dollar powerhouses over the past few years.

Evidently, there is a lot of money to be made in this space. Also, while a fierce handset war is being waged right now in India, the operating system of choice by a wide margin is Android. While iPhone users spend more money downloading apps and content than Android users, the Google Play store will eventually afford an unparalleled scale.

Opportunity for Canadian media producers

As a Canadian digital media producer interested in capitalizing on the growth of the Indian market, I would suggest focusing on children’s content and apps. Given that fact that 75% of India’s population is under the age of 35, many of these 900 million people will be parents raising their kids with their new tablets and mobile devices in hand and—like in North America—will find streaming digital kids’ content and apps appealing. In February 2014, Canada signed a co-production treaty with India and, according to Canadian Heritage, “co-produced projects will be given ‘national status’ in Canada and in India, which will make producers eligible for national benefits in their respective countries, be they funding programs, tax incentives, or access to screens.” While this treaty does not cover digital content, it does cover linear content that can be streamed and accessed through mobile devices. HungamaTVCartoon Network and Toons are but three of many children’s channels in India. Indiatelevision covers the ongoing trade activity within this market. Also, the Annecy International Animated Film FestivalMIP JuniorKidscreenand the Banff World Media Festival are great markets to connect with internationally focused kids’ and animation channels and producers.

As tempting as it might be to think there is a silver bullet that one can acquire for success in the digital space, the unfortunate reality is that it is always more complex than it appears to be. When dealing with foreign markets, that complexity is multiplied. However, as Canadians, we are lucky to have a number of different resources at our disposal to help us navigate through the complexity. In exploring digital India, you might want to take advantage of the recent Canadian-led incubator in India that was launched by Ryerson and Simon Fraser Universities, or yet again the ICT programs made available by the Canadian Trade Commissioners in India.

Mark Greenspan
Mark Greenspan has spent the last 17 years supporting the growth of digital media companies by building a wide variety of industry recognized training and business development programs. Mark built nextMEDIA and The Digis, Canada’s most influential series of digital media conferences and award shows which was eventually sold to Brunico. Most recently he founded The Digital Growth Lab which created influenceTHIS, a Canadian marketplace for influencer marketing and social content creation.
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