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This article was published on February 15, 2016

Emerging markets are the growth generator of the digital world

Emerging markets are the growth generator of the digital world
Joe Hyrkin
Story by

Joe Hyrkin

Joe Hyrkin brings more than 20 years of tech and publishing sector expertise to the Issuu team. Previously CEO of Reverb as well as Entrepre Joe Hyrkin brings more than 20 years of tech and publishing sector expertise to the Issuu team. Previously CEO of Reverb as well as Entrepreneur in Residence at Trinity Ventures, Hyrkin has also held top leadership positions at Gaia Interactive, Yahoo!, Flickr and Virage, Inc.

Throughout history, we have found new ways to share information and ideas. Today, innovation around content – both its distribution and its consumption –  is progressing at a rapid pace.

In established markets, we don’t think twice before flipping through news articles on our phone or watching a TV show on our iPad.  In contrast, emerging markets, which represent 80 percent of the world’s population, are just beginning to consume digital content in a meaningful way.

The evolution of digital content in these markets is driven by a number of larger trends, and while they share some key similarities with the evolution that occurred in established markets, emerging markets are following a unique path. Let’s take a deeper look.

Smartphones and leapfrogs

The explosion of mobile devices in emerging markets is the most significant trend shaping the way content is consumed. There are now more than seven billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide, up from less than one billion in 2000. A large gap clearly remains between the number of mobile subscriptions and the number of smartphones in use, but this gap will close as smartphones continue to get cheaper.

Another key trend is the speed at which technology “leapfrogs” are happening. The greater accessibility of mobile devices and technologies are enabling people and businesses in emerging markets to skip over intermediate stages in certain areas. For example, mobile payment adoption in Kenya dwarfs that in many established markets.

Kenya previously had minimal banking infrastructure and a huge unbanked population as a result. M-PESA changed that by making services like money deposit and withdrawal, remittances, bill payment and microcredit readily available to mobile device owners.


Source: Afritorial

A majority of Kenya’s population now uses mobile money services, and in 2014, a staggering 87 percent of the country’s $55 billion GDP passed through M-PESA. In the US, adoption of mobile money remains low because of entrenched infrastructure and behaviors – even though we can pay with phones, most of us still pay with credit cards.

This same leapfrogging effect will also take place with content.

The future of content in emerging markets

In the US and Western Europe, we saw the mobile web transform into apps, and today, we have an ongoing reliance on apps and HTML5. In emerging markets, I predict content consumption will heavily rely on messaging apps.

Messaging apps, such as WhatsApp and LINE, are now dominating mobile usage and sessions around the world. The Internet Trends report shows that their MAUs are experiencing exponential momentum, thanks largely to the growth of users in emerging markets, like India, Mexico and Brazil. In November 2014, WhatsApp had 70 million active users in India, which represented more than a tenth of its global users.

People are sharing vast amounts of information in these apps every day, and they are becoming the main mechanism by which people communicate and consume content. As a result, there is a huge opportunity for messaging apps to break out of the messaging silo and deliver content in-stream, in the context of their app.

As Mary Meeker put it, messaging leaders will strive to create “cross-platform operating systems that are context persistent communications hubs for more and more services.” In other words, apps that started out as simple communication tools will expand to include a combination of voice-to-voice, texting and access to content.

This trend will have a number of ripple effects. First, it will kick off the growth of whole new sets of interesting content, which will get shared more frequently. On social networks like Facebook and Twitter, any content you share is distributed to a large audience.

In messaging apps, sharing is more isolated, since users can share specific things with specific people. Therefore, people will be freer to take risks around the types of content they consume and share. They won’t have to consider whether a post is relevant or appropriate for their entire network and can pick-and-choose who they share what with.

In addition, bundled experiences will become increasingly common. As more people acquire smartphones, the barriers between consumption and transactions will be broken down. A smartphone user will be able to read a beauty magazine online and buy makeup products directly from those pages, using a wallet-like application on their phone (which they are already comfortable using).

These kinds of turnkey experiences will manifest in emerging markets much more quickly than they did in the US and Europe, where the shift was incremental. Again, they will “leapfrog.”

Content and social good

The social implications of more accessible content are dramatic.  As more people come online in emerging markets, they will look to the Internet (and specifically mobile devices) to access basic services, such as banking, healthcare and education. As a result, more and more entrepreneurs will begin building products in these sectors for emerging market customers, who will benefit from the proliferation of new kinds of content.

Consider educational content. Up until now, there has been a strong demand for more accessible educational content in countries like India, Kenya and Indonesia – where significant portions of the population do not have access to schooling, but do have mobile devices – but the infrastructure has not allowed for it. As mobile penetration rises and the infrastructure improves, so will the quality and quantity of the educational content in formats that are friendly to emerging market customers.

When someone in India has access to educational content through a 4G connection, they will be exposed to new ideas and knowledge that they were never able to before. This will transform the way they view the world and engage with their own lives. Moreover, children in rural areas who previously were excluded from formal schooling, whether due to gender or economic reasons, will be able to access education digitally.

The same implications hold true for health-related content. Someone who is sick in a remote area will be able to access care and information through their mobile devices without having to trek into the nearest urban center.

In sum, the growth of digital content in the developing world will follow a path that is distinct from adoption in established markets. This represents a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs across sectors who understand the nuances of these markets and are able to build products that suit their unique needs. Digital content is at an exciting tipping point.

Read next: How to get in on Africa’s e-commerce boom


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