In an interaction with Dataquest, Robert Bu, General Manager, UCWeb India reveals the changing patterns in news consumption and future of news media in the digital world and how important is to the company’s global plans.
What is your overall presence in India?
UCWeb established itself in India before it was merged into Alibaba Group in 2011. We are the only business within Alibaba Mobile Business Group to set feet on foreign lands out of China.
As a core member of the Alibaba Mobile Business Group, we aim at providing infrastructural internet services to India internet users – webpage browsing and application downloading, as the 2 gateways to make connecting to the internet world easy and fun.
The core products of UCWeb are UC Browser – the all-in-one browsing experience and 9Apps – a dynamically designed android application store with over 250 mn monthly active users.
In terms of page views, according to the generally used 3rd party data from StatCounter, over 50% of the webpages are accessed by UC Browser in India – a major milestone on our mission to connect half of the India Cyber Citizens to the Internet. Our monthly active users in India stand at over 80 million (as of March 2016) – accounting for more than 30% of the population of mobile internet users. Our journey in India has been fascinating, rich and rewarding, in more ways than one.
What are the challenges faced by the company while working in the Indian Market?
Smartphone penetration is expected to reach 520 million by 2020 (Ernst & Young) and millions of Indian users are exploring internet for the first time on their mobile phones.
Mobile Browser is now the gateway to internet and its potential is immense. 45% of all content consumed expected to be on the small screen at that time. Apart from limited bandwidth availability, content distribution and accessibility is the new challenge faced by the industry.
UC Browser is taking several steps to increase its appeal amongst the user base by offering localized content and services, UC Cricket and UC News being one of the many.
What solution did the company adopt to overcome these challenges?
The key driver to further growth is the affordability of data. This will crystallize further adoption by new mobile Internet users and prompt existing users to utilise more data
We want to share more content to the Indian users. We already have some apps in place that help our users consume more entertainment content. For instance, we have UC cricket, which resides in the browser but acts like an app. It can send you reminders for the matches and a scorecard in the notification bar. We also want to be a platform for more app serving content or experiences. Apart from our app store, 9Apps, which also resides in the browser apart from being a native App, there are inbuilt apps such as video and audio player as well.
With UC News we intend to aggregate local content and offer a single window to the world for content creators as well as the consumers. Our goal is to provide more and better content to users. To achieve that, we will get more and more content providers on board including KOLs, improve our product and add additional regional language support.
What are the changing patterns in content?
Millions of Indian users are exploring internet for the first time on their mobile phones. The mobile browser has become a gateway to internet and its potential is immense.
The concern is to ensure that people who access internet for the first time on mobiles can navigate it successfully. The need therefore is to satisfy the rising demand for content and offer products/ services from a single gateway.
Data consumption is definitely on the rise. There is acquisition of new customers in Tier 3 cities because of availability of cost efficient smartphones in India, improving 3G and 4G internet coverage that allow users to consume contents of multiple formats. We see content providers struggling to reach right audience and audience struggling to get the content that is relevant to them. Therefore we chose to become a platform that helps the content providers reach right audience, and help the audience get the right content – A single window to the wonderful world of internet that bridges the digital gap.
UC News is our answer to these challenges and it’s in line with our commitment to provide better mobile services and content to half of the world’s population.
What are the investments taken by the company in India?
We have recently announced a partnership deal with Colors TV for exclusive content on the microsite of our browser. The strategic partnership is being built around 4 marquee shows of Colors; Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, 24, Big Boss and Comedy Nights Live. As part of the collaboration, the browser will have video clips, behind the scenes, news, games and more on these shows. UCWeb will also create multiple engagement platforms around these shows for the users of UC Browser, 9Apps and UC News. The vision is to offer Digitized Entertainment and utilize strengths of volume and power of the browser in content aggregation and to provide quality content to users.
The partnership seeks to build long-term engagement for content on Colors TV through multiple platforms such as blogs and behind-the-scenes videos, ensuring stickiness and long-term engagement for these properties. Digital content consumption is on the rise and the challenge for content creators is to be able to customize, curate and present diverse content to users to strengthen their engagement. The solution that UC Browser is offering is “Digitized Entertainment”
How are you planning to grow in the Indian market? Can you please throw some light on growth figures and future targets?
As of now, UC Browser has over 80 Million users (MAUs) and a market share of close to 50% (Source StatCounter). The browser has brought faster internet access to millions of people residing in low bandwidth areas across the country. While the old browser just brought people on the internet, the New UC Browser recognizes that now is the right time to offer the right content to the right user.
The new UC Browser embraces adaptability by offering direct news feeds from UC News, an app exclusively launched for India market in June 2016. It has a simple and clean UI and the homepage is a lot more concise with one swipe allowing the option to switch from Browser to News. The personalised channel settings allow the users to choose their favourite news channels and make their own reading sequence, as per their individual preference.
The information is shareable, can be customised and is available in 2 languages – English and Hindi – which will later, also be available in other regional languages, starting with Tamil.
We have also announced our foray into the lucrative e-commerce space in India with 9Apps, an android marketplace, to offer multiple and exciting new features on our app for shopaholics. The move is in addition to 9Apps’ existing role as India’s leading provider of android apps and games and is expected to benefit 9Apps’ 250 monthly active users (MAUs).
9Apps offers Comparative Pricing where users can compare product prices from 8 different sellers – namely Paytm, Flipkart, Jabong, Myntra, Snapdeal, Askmebazar, Voonik and Shopclues. The discount aggregation/coupon zone is a one-stop shop for all discounts and coupon codes available on 9Apps. Not just that – users also get a discount of value 50 INR for free when they sign up for Amazon via 9Apps.
How do you fare against your competition?
Our objective is to make UC Browser and 9Apps super applications that offer something for everybody. Our new milestone of reaching 430 million MAUs has placed us at par with Twitter and Instagram. Our vision in the coming years, after success in India, is to serve half the population of the planet. Our strategy is to focus on “Glocalization” – which is going global by offering localized solutions in each market. We believe this strategy will lead us to a new digital era, which is GUF – Google, UCWeb and Facebook.