Blackstone, a private equity fund, recently paid Rs 225 crore for an undisclosed stake in the Rs 846 crore Jagran Prakashan, the publishers of Hindi daily Dainik Jagran. The deal is being used as an example of how “regional media” has a lot of potential.
It may seem like a ridiculous question, but what really is “regional media”? Is Dainik Jagran, with 54.6 million readers, a “regional” daily? It talks to a potential audience of 500 million people, roughly five times more than the audience that the “national” The Times of India (English) talks to.
Is Sun Network a regional broadcaster? Its share of audience as a network on most days is equal to or more than that of Zee Entertainment or Star India, which are called “national networks”. Sun makes a bulk of its money from its clutch of 24 channels in the four South Indian languages, while Star and Zee make it largely from Hindi language channels.
Now that Star and Zee have about half a dozen channels in Indian languages other than Hindi, what are they? National broadcasters with a regional footprint?
The Andhra film industry makes more Telugu films than Mumbai does every year, so is it “regional” or “national”?
The fact is that in India, language media has always been bigger than English in terms of audience size. Going by the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2008 data, the top-four Hindi dailies have more than thrice the number of readers of The Times of India, the largest-selling English daily. However, in terms of perceptions of purchasing power, the non-English media has lagged behind.
Typically, even top Indian language brands cannot charge more than, say, one-third the ad rate of an English language publication. While the ratios may vary, the story is true for news television as well. (For some reason though, the rate differential does not apply to entertainment TV.)
This, however, is not about Hindi versus English or North versus South, or small-town India versus metros. This is about the “Indian” market and recognising that heterogeneity is genetic to us. It is built into the soul, the body and the mind of the Indian consumer. Most Indians know two or more languages — English, their mother tongue and usually Hindi or the language of the state they live in. We eat almost every variety of Indian food, either at home or outside. Most homes in the North would do an idli/dosa kind of meal, just like many in the South would eat parathas. Pongal, Parsi New Year or Gudi Padva, all mean the New Year, around the same time of the year. We live, eat and breathe in a multilingual, multi-cultural ethos.
Indians have had multiple personality syndrome for centuries. Heterogeneity defines this market. Yet, investors, marketers and even the media find it difficult to deal with it. In an recent interview with me, Santosh Desai, CEO of Future Brands and one of the best observers of Indian consumers, said that heterogeneity is very “reluctantly acknowledged” in most Indian companies. If a company does well in a particular state, then it would start crafting a strategy for that state or region. This reluctance to look to acknowledge heterogeneity is true for the media as well.
That is strange. Because as regular people, we lead what would seem like socially schizophrenic lives. Yet, when we become marketers or investors, we are not able to see the same trait in the markets we work in. Every time a foreign investor, who probably gets the point better than most of the Indian media, puts money into a language paper or TV firm, there is a sense of wonder.
Maybe it is just a manifestation of our ignorance. There exists, as any language media owner will tell you, a Delhi-Mumbai corridor of power which cannot see beyond English and these two markets. So, every time it is confronted with the fact that other markets exist, there is wonder.
Just for fun, we could declare that Mumbai and Delhi are suburbs of each other and consist of one single market joined by its imperviousness to the rest of India. Let us celebrate the emergence of the first truly homogeneous market in India.