For the first time parents across the country believe that mobile phones are good for their children, says Sanjay Gupta, country head, Google India in an exclusive interview with ETBrandEquity.com. Excerpts…
Q: What are the big changes in the digital ecosystem?
Mobile and digital have created a deep relationship in people’s lives. But consumer behaviour has changed dramatically and the depth of engagement on mobile devices has undergone a huge transformation. One big shift is that for the first time, as a family, I believe parents across India believe that mobile is good for my children. That was never the case, till around six months back. It was always believed that while it’s good for me to keep my children away. I used to see within my own family and they would say, “Only 30 minutes in front of the mobile.” And after that time off, go play, go to school, whatever. For the first time, I now see everyone in the family trying to put their children in front of a computer for three to four hours every day. And that has shifted the mindset around that mobile is not good for my child. The mobile is now the best friend for my children because they learn through it. So I think that’s a really huge shift.
And the second big shift is around how people are using mobiles as a payment mechanism. And, I’m sure you’re seeing it, but we see it in UPI (unified payments interface) payments today. Last month, I think there were some 1.51 billion transactions on UPI, which is double what was the same time last year, indicating almost 100 per cent growth. Amitabh Kant said in all the interviews, that we’ll be leading or reaching a 1 billion payment transaction on UPI, probably every day, in the next 24 months, and maybe sooner. So I think these two shifts that mobile is good for my children, and mobile is a thing to pay for is a big shift in society, I feel. And with that, in place, the growth in YouTube, or video content is mirroring all digital growth rates. Fundamentally the growth is scaling up dramatically. I think our growth has been captured by comScore is between year on year is 45 percent. So I think we’re seeing a massive shift. But enabled by these two fundamental shifts, I feel is how I see the video panning out is good in this country.
Q: You spoke about how YouTube is becoming the place for commerce. Are we seeing the growth of video-commerce, if I may use that term?
I think video commerce is going to explode. But is it exploding today? I think commerce is clearly growing. As you know, I’m sure if you talk to any of the e-commerce players like Flipkart or Amazon, they will talk about a massive growth. I can say personally for me, and for my family, the biggest saviour in today’s pandemic times is e-commerce. Actually I don’t need to go to my home at all. I see that trend not only in large towns, but in small towns. I think in middle India or small India suddenly, people who would never ever transacted on an e-commerce site or are using e-commerce to deliver goods to them. And I think in places where it has been badly hit by pandemic even more so because that’s your only friend available to get your goods.
But video commerce is an interesting thing. I think it is set to explode. But for that a lot more technology has to come into video commerce as well. Because then you need to start identifying goods playing within a video and say, “Can I just click there and purchase?” Yeah, I think many people are trying many things. But over the next few years, I think the biggest growth area in the future is video commerce.
Q: With respect to the premiumisation of YouTube, we’ve seen a lot of momentum there, especially both in music and video. Could you throw some light on some developments on that front?
With the big shift in attitude that mobile is good for my children it means the scope of everything one can do on mobile has expanded. Earlier it was only entertainment, but it means learning about products, services, being a chef, being a cook, etc. These were the genres (of content) growing big time on YouTube earlier. And now is the big thing of education. I think many people are now using video as a platform or video as a tool to educate, (and) to learn. And I think that’s growing massively in terms of scale. The question is, how many people are willing to pay and what for. And I feel that’s a massive shift happening. And not only YouTube, but across the spectrum, the number of people who are potentially now paying for entertainment, on digital has increased. That is something (i notice) when I look at my earlier company, Disney+Hotstar, or Hotstar, I feel that they announced globally a massive growth in the number of paid users. Now that’s happening, I’m sure on the back of the premium that people are willing to pay for content, given that the payment mechanism is easy and my desire to consume content, including education for me and my children has grown, suddenly, that’s become a great destination. We see, I think I see similarly, anybody who is whether it is Amazon, or I think partners who work with us, Byju’s, brands, which are leveraging the power of internet to grow their businesses, and their own interviews and conversations around how people are paying for content is changing very dramatically in the last six, seven months. On YouTube, also, I feel that the growth of people paying for what we call YouTube premium has been staggering. There has been a dramatic growth rate in the last 6 to 8 months, significantly accelerated on the back of COVID. So I think the desire to pay and desired given desire to consume and desire to pay both have changed dramatically. I think that is something again, and is set for explosive growth over the next few years.
Q: Speaking about some of the trends that you addressed early earlier you spoke about the emergence of education. But I would sense that education in a non formal space was anyway active because YouTube was the university you went to whether picking up guitar classes or you know, learning to cook and so on. But now is it the formal education space where we’ve seen a huge boom in the last 6 -7 months? And are we seeing the makings of a formal YouTube University of sorts?
Yes, education in a more formal sense. Education, I would say that the reality is all 27 to 30 crore kids in this country today cannot go to a school or a college physically. And I think all of them and their parents are saying what can I do to enable my kid to learn a little more. If you are going to a very good school and in big cities, you can still have access to teachers teaching you but that’s limited. Of the 27 crore in my mind the best estimate would be for 5 crore kids will have more formal education being delivered through a digital mechanism at this moment.
I think many people will attempt. I think many are platforms, which are very formal education platforms in my mind, which are seeing huge traction. And the interesting thing is globally, there is not a single such brand. In other categories or all categories before this, whether it is e-commerce or entertainment, there are many global brands which exist. But in this area, there’s no big global brand as yet. So I think on education, I feel it will be a massive scale. At YouTube, we are trying to do that, we are saying how to make high quality content accessible free of cost to consumers to consume.
But there are many people who have a different business model. So they may go very narrow, and very sharp on education. Or they may get very wide, but still may be charged for content, or may provide one on one education depending on different models that we will find. But I feel that even the model that YouTube has, will have a huge traction. Because I think money or affordability remains a big challenge in India. Even though for education, parents are willing to pay a lot more. But there’s only so much that I can pay, given our lower incomes per capita income, there is so much only we can afford. So I see a huge opportunity to be led by YouTube as a learning platform. And we launched in the middle of the pandemic, YouTube learning is a big theme, where we have brought content creators together, who would make high quality education accessible to people who can’t afford to pay top dollars, because I do think that’s an area which will remain a big opportunity. India may lead some of those big changes for the world in this field.
Q: Okay, and in terms of consumption of content, and is education in the top three now? One would guess it would have been food and sports and music in the past.
Yeah, I think food, I think what I would call experiences, which include food and learning, as you said, learning how to cook, how to do something is continues to be a really big one. But my view is education has really leaped up in the number of people engaging less on education on YouTube. It has leaped up quite significantly, in the last four or five months in the number of people, and the amount of time that they’re spending on education has been a seriously dramatic growth more than numbers and consumption.
Yeah, so precisely. We look at education learning as to combine things because there’s a lot of supplementary secondary learning that happens on YouTube and how to do this and how to do that. And it’s one of the fastest growing vertical now. We’ve seen three explode only in the last up in this year compared to last year, in what’s time for learning and education content will only continue to grow as more language content comes online on YouTube, across these things, it will become one of the top three, you know, content genres for sure.
Q: Bandwidth still remains an issue in this country, right? Like, we’ve heard some statistics in the past that more than 80% of the content in YouTube is viewed at the 360 P or under 720 P. Does that still stand true?
So, yes, I think we are, I think, but that is not maybe less to do with bandwidth more and less and less I feel, because if you look at the mobile consumption, or data consumption on mobile networks, we have one of the highest in the world now. True, as you know, we don’t have a fixed line, which is not going to be there for a long, long time, I think will be driven by mobile and mobile broadband in a big way. But I also find that we are a very value conscious country, if I can save a rupee. And if I can play at a lower bitrate, but it is a reasonably good quality, I would rather use that then spend money. So I think our value consciousness also drives a lot of bandwidth at what bitrate we are consuming content. And I think people are very conscious. And this I’ve seen now across now I’ve seen on YouTube, but before that on hotstar, how people are so conscious about the money that they need to pay. This is like everything else that we do in India, we are very, very VSP saving every rupee if we can, because that means that you can spend somewhere else. And it doesn’t matter who you are, that could be the richest person in the country, to the person who has low per capita income, everybody’s trying to maximize value. So I think that’s also driven by that attitude to conserve.
Q: Speaking about advertising effectiveness, you spoke about consumer expectations during the lockdown in terms of advertising messaging. It seemed to be that they expected ‘everything is normal’ kind of messaging, as opposed to, you know, an overdose of COVID or the ‘take care’ kind of message from brands….
That’s right. I think we learned that that is what works better. I’m sure all of everybody was when you began, you wonder what you should say or not say, how we should make the messages more relevant. But we realized that if they were simple enough, and I think which is more to do with regular advertising and marketing, that if you’re doing simple and a message, they were working really well.
I do think advertising, as long as it is interesting, it solves problems, explains that simply, works very well. When it gets too, too intellectual, too complicated then it fails. And I think that remains the case. Always, I think that those are things that you learn through tough times and good moments that those principles don’t change.
Q: And with respect to the surge in content uploaded on YouTube, do you see a future way? You know, social media channels will need to actually put a cap on, you know, you can upload only kind of x GB of content every month, or else pay for it. Do you see that happening?
I think I’ll tell you my philosophy on this, I feel that the power of YouTube in some manner Internet has come by allowing many more millions of people to create content versus what was happening before that. Earlier, you had to create content, you have to walk into an office which does not allow you to even get an appointment. Even if you got entry, your content, an idea may not get approved because somebody was sitting in and controlling who could who could be allowed to create content, and at what cost and when it will go up. Yeah, I think that has changed today, too. Let’s say on YouTube, we talked about two and a half thousand people over a million plus followers. But in India, more than a million people are consumed or creating content daily. And look at that massive shift. If I look at all video content being created in the country five years back, they will, across all channels, all content, all TV stations leave, it will be a few thousand or less than 1000, I would assume. Today, on YouTube, there’s a million people creating more and more content. So I personally see I don’t see the only way to get this going is to keep this democratization of content keep going. More people should create, I see the shift towards more and more as people mature in content creation. And I see that on YouTube also a big focus around better and better quality. When people are making better tools, they are making storytelling more sharper, they’re making content more exciting. And we charge reflecting the number of followers that they have. So from a million to 10 million, there are people who are having so many more followers today. And it’s not content that you’ve seen, let’s say on an erstwhile TV channel at all, because that’s what not was supposed to be right for consumers. But here because it is democratization of content, people who create are free, and people who consume express their choice. So I would see to your question more than the number of hours of content being uploaded, because that is wherein lies the power of YouTube and the internet in some way. And I think will lead to support and enable it. And which is happening. If you look at even search, there are millions more sites to be searched. But the speed at which you can find search is getting sharper and smaller, and more accurate. More than more like almost you can click say something and it’ll throw up what you’re looking for more sharply you you enter a flight number, and it tells you exactly how later when did it arrive as the first instance, because I think the technology has become smarter. So I do think therefore it won’t be a limit to creation of content, it would be will content keep becoming better and better with better quality, better capability is better shoot technology is better storytelling, better grammar of storytelling, all that will happen. So I see a avoid of ever increasing content and catering to the diversity of the world even more than ever before. So I think content will improve number of amount of control increase, and the quality will decrease both in the in the future.