Going local: Video content startup Homescreen takes the vernacular route

What augurs well for these start-ups is that the majority of these new internet users are not from urban areas and do not comprehend English
What makes India unique as a nation? Of all the elements, the one that stands out the tallest is its diversity. And it is in this diversity that many entrepreneurs are now searching for new business opportunities.

The digital entertainment industry and content platforms are a few examples in this regard. In the last year or so, vernacular content has been creating buzz, with several start-ups expanding their services to include regional languages beyond Hindi. 

These start-ups are seeing strong investor interest as well. The latest among them is Homescreen Network, the digital media start-up that owns hyperlocal regional content platform SparkTV and live interactive online 24x7 channel TheBigScope. Founded in 2018 by Soum Paul and T V Mahalingam, the company recently raised $2 million in Series A round of funding from Saama Capital.

The company offers the video content in five languages - Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Kannada and English. The content, mostly produced by the company itself, is also distributed through partner platforms like JioNews, DailyHunt, Sharechat and SonyLIV. The start-up derives revenue from several sources, with hyperlocal branded content being the primary source. Other revenue streams include syndicated content and advertisements.  

Vernacular content platforms started drawing attention ever since the launch of Reliance Jio led to a sharp fall in data prices, resulting in an exponential rise in internet penetration in India. 

What especially augurs well for these start-ups is that the majority of these new internet users are not from urban areas and do not comprehend English. Google and KPMG had projected in a study that nine out of 10 new internet users in India between 2016 and 2021 would use local languages. 

Citing a report published by Google, Homescreen CEO Soum Paul says 40 million new users are coming online from India every year. “Most of these users prefer content that is visual and dynamic, and in their own language...we are tapping this audience through the powerful in-house technology-driven content production pipeline,” he says.

According to a report, even Facebook is looking to invest in vernacular content start-ups in India.

One area where these start-ups face the biggest challenge is the lack of user-friendly technology that can facilitate access to the internet in vernacular languages. “Multilingual keyboards lack support for most of these languages, and generating or displaying textual content is challenging due to lack of accurate fonts,” says Paul.

Monetisation is another area of concern. There are questions around whether the ad model will be sustainable, given the largely lower income consumer group.

As for Homescreen, Paul claims its content is getting good traction and the total number of views across platforms has crossed 17 million. The CEO declined to disclose financial figures but said the revenue was growing steadily.

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