How the Indian sub-continent is hungry for British cultural digital content – and smart phones are the key for feeding demand
South Asian audiences are hungry for arts and culture-themed digital content from Britain. Ammba’s Rebecca Bartlett discusses the mobile-first revolution and the opportunities it brings for cultural organisations in the UK.
Since 2012, the smartphone has beaten the PC to become the most popular device in the West for accessing the internet. With this change comes new opportunities – and challenges – for arts and cultural organisations wishing to tap into the digital market.
Like the younger sibling born in a large family, smartphones were expected to fit in with its predecessor, the PC: websites designed for laptops were simply modified to be mobile friendly, and it’s only fairly recently that we’ve seen content designed specifically for phones and tablets.
In contrast, South Asian countries have largely by-passed the PC stage and instead it is smartphones that are at the forefront of the digital revolution. In India, the number of smartphone users is predicted to rise from 60m in 2015 to 700m in 2025, with mobile internet use in rural areas set to grow at 33%, reaching some 53m users this year*. Meanwhile Pakistan has a mobile penetration rate of 73%, with 136m mobile subscribers**.
With so many content-hungry mobile users, and a long-standing interest in British arts and culture, the rapidly expanding South Asian market is opportunity that UK cultural organisations with digital ambitions should take note of.
The Barriers to Penetrating today’s Digital Market
There are two major challenges to exploiting today’s digital market.
Firstly, the technical one. Even when websites are designed to be compatible with mobile devices, they aren’t always as user-friendly as consumers need. Increasingly organisations must design sites and curate the content they hold specifically to be used on mobiles. This is known as ‘mobile-first’.
The second challenge is attracting and keeping a digital audience. If we think of Apple, Twitter and WhatsApp, these organisations offer services and products that solved a need or want that customers had.
Who knows, perhaps thanks to the new Apple watch, in a few years time we will have to re-write this article from advocating ‘mobile-first’ to ‘watch-first’. Regardless of the delivery mechanism, the content must address a users need or want, and if it does, then it means once they have used it, it’s hard to imagine life without.
Case-study: British Council Libraries in South Asia
Our company, Ammba, is working alongside consultancy partner Entec Si to map a digital strategy for the British Council Libraries in South Asia, looking in particular at how we can overcome these two challenges.
Using research commissioned by the British Council, we sought to understand what this growing digital audience is interested in. The results are fascinating. South Asian digital audiences are looking for interesting content that they can read, engage and interact with and that is fresh and up-to-date. They value conversations with peers and experts and use social media shares to help them connect with people who are interested in the same things, as well as to promote learning and collaboration. They are resistant to organisations that just push content at them, preferring instead those that enable conversations and promote engagement.
The research also suggests that consumers are not particularly interested in which organisation content comes from, just that the content is good and engaging. The phrase “content is king” often arose.
Interestingly, we identified that users were willing to pay for content and services that they valued but, crucially, the content has to be delivered in a way that is most convenient to the user. Statistics shows this increasingly means on a mobile or tablet and that means technology must be designed to be mobile-first.
What’s clear is that audiences no longer want to be consumers of content, but to interact, engage and share content.
‘The Digital Hub’ Opportunity for Cultural Organisations
For all cultural organisations this presents an exciting opportunity to extend the reach of their online content, using innovative technology to meet the needs and wants of this new South Asian market.
So how could this work in practice?
Let’s return to The British Council. Their 17 library buildings across South Asia have seen visits slowly decrease in recent years. By making their rich content available online, through eBooks, videos on demand, live streaming, images and so on, they can put their content out to a much wider audiences and start to address some of the needs and wants of the market.
But let’s think a little wider.
With strong demand for online cultural content from the UK and, given that end users are generally unconcerned with which organisation the content is coming from, could UK cultural providers come together to provide digital content under one banner? Whether it’s a masterclass on Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon, archive footage of David Bowie or a live-steam exhibition tour of the latest opening at Tate, the potential to bring British cultural content together into one mobile-friendly hub is huge.
The key to success is matching the wealth of content that could be provided from the UK with the local market in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. This is where we think the British Council could excel. Their expertise in matching British cultural professionals with local audience groups, writers and IT specialists on the ground could effectively address the needs and wants of digital consumers in South Asia.
We know there is a willingness to pay for content and the vast numbers of potential users in these markets means there is also a commercial proposition for those organisations willing to offer content. The British Council is not alone in rethinking its digital strategy, as cultural providers around the globe are seeking to make their wealth of knowledge and content available and relevant to new overseas markets.
Our prediction is that mobile-first, collaborative projects will lead the way.
(Co-written with Robbie Beak, Associate Director Ammba)
Industry Experts article written by:
Director, Ammba and Digital Content Specialist, Nymbol
Designing Digital Experiences for the Arts
Rebecca has over 14 years experience working within the cultural heritage and education sectors, including a BAFTA award-winning multimedia company. Her company, Ammba, works with organisations that are eager to explore new ways of delivering digital content and developing audiences. She has worked with a range of organisations including The Library of Birmingham, Yorkshire Film Archive, Imperial War Museum and British Council. At sister company, Nymbol, Rebecca working with the technologists, guides organisations through the cultural change that often comes when adopting digital.