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谷歌在印度:希望、夢想和機遇

Vivienne Walt 2019年02月28日

在這個龐大但充滿挑戰的市場上,這家硅谷巨頭選擇保持耐心,而非追逐利潤。谷歌在印度學到的教益,可能對世界其他地區有著更加重要的意義。

去年12月的一天晚上,當我到達印度最有人氣的YouTube明星之一的家中時,新德里郊區諾伊達已經是一片漆黑。然而,在門口迎接我的人卻顛覆了YouTube一詞讓人聯想到的所有模式化形象。尼莎·馬杜利卡是一位60歲的老奶奶,身穿一襲長袍,一雙涼鞋,頭發扎成馬尾辮。她安頓我坐在起居室的扶手椅上,然后拿出自制的餅干招待我。“你一定要嘗嘗。”她用印地語說。聲音小得近乎耳語,她的兒子在一旁客串翻譯。

馬杜利卡的YouTube烹飪頻道擁有650萬用戶,并且還在以每月新增20萬粉絲的速度持續增長中。她在晚年大獲成功,幾乎沒有任何先兆——考慮到印度正在發生的大變革,這似乎是一個再合適不過的例證。簡而言之,這也可以用來描述印度對所有數字化事物姍姍來遲的擁抱。在過去的兩年里,數億印度人首次登陸互聯網。這一激增是由于該國政府出臺了旨在讓印度人上網的激進政策;另一個重要因素是,數據和智能手機的價格暴跌。據業內人士估計,目前約有3.9億印度人是活躍的互聯網用戶,幾乎占總人口的三分之一,是2016年的兩倍。這么說吧,印度的互聯網用戶比所有生活在美國的人都多。

一代人之前,美國、歐洲和中國相繼為互聯網增添了數量同樣巨大的用戶群體。但在這些國家,這一進程是穩定而漸進的,從撥號調制解調器到笨拙的Wi-Fi,再到移動技術。印度的情況與此迥然不同:數億印度人完全跳過了早期的互聯網,許多人甚至從未接觸過計算機。相反,他們對互聯網的體驗,是從瘋狂下載應用和觀看手機視頻開始的。2017年,印度人下載的應用數量首次超過美國人。去年,印度成為安卓手機上最大的移動數據消費國。負責印度和東南亞業務的谷歌副總裁拉詹·阿南丹表示:“我們還沒有在世界其他地區見過這種用戶行為。”谷歌不僅是安卓手機軟件的供應商,還是YouTube的擁有者。十多年前,YouTube在硅谷橫空出世,引領用戶生成視頻之先河;它現在擁有2.45億印度用戶。“印度可能是世界上第一個視頻優先的數字經濟體。”他說。

IT IS ALREADY DARK in the New Delhi suburb of Noida on a night in December when I arrive at the home of one of the biggest YouTube stars in all of India. Yet the person who greets me at the door defies every stereotype the word YouTuber evokes. Nisha Madhulika is a 60-year-old grandmother dressed in a long robe and sandals, with her hair tied in a ponytail. After settling me in an armchair in the living room, she plies me with home-baked cookies. “You must try them,” she says, in a voice barely above a whisper, using her son to translate from Hindi.

Given the transformation unfolding in India, it seems fitting that Madhulika, with 6.5 million subscribers to her YouTube cooking channel and 200,000 more signing on each month, has hit it big late in life and with little forewarning. That, in a nutshell, could just as well describe India’s belated embrace of all things digital. Hundreds of millions of Indians have logged on to the Internet for the first time in the past two years. The surge is owing to aggressive government policies aimed at connecting Indians online and plummeting prices for data and smartphones. About 390 million Indians are now active Internet users, almost a third of the population and twice as many as were connected in 2016, according to industry estimates. For context, that’s more Indian Internet users than all the people who live in the United States.

A generation ago, the U.S., Europe, and then China added similarly huge numbers of people to the Internet. Yet the process in those areas was steady and gradual, moving from dial-up modems through clunky Wi-Fi to mobile tech. Contrast that with India, where hundreds of millions of people have skipped the early-stage Internet altogether; many have never even touched a computer. Instead, they have started online by downloading apps and watching mobile-phone videos at a furious rate. Since 2017, Indians have begun downloading more apps than Americans do. And last year, India became the biggest consumer of mobile data on Android phones. “We have not seen this kind of user behavior anywhere else in the world,” says Rajan Anandan, vice president for India and Southeast Asia for Google, the purveyor of Android mobile-phone software. Google also owns YouTube, which started the phenomenon of user-generated video in Silicon Valley more than a decade ago and now has 245 million Indian users. “This is perhaps the world’s first video-first digital economy,” he says.

印度最有人氣的YouTube明星之一尼莎·馬杜利卡在錄制她的烹飪秀。圖片來源:Photograph by Vivek Singh for Fortune

事實證明,對于那些競相爭奪全球市場份額的西方公司來說,印度陡峭的數字發展軌跡具有強大的吸引力。也許沒有哪家公司能像谷歌那樣,如此形象地體現出在印度開展業務需要克服的巨大障礙,以及它可能帶來的巨大回報。谷歌的增長取決于找到更多用戶,因為廣告貢獻了其80%以上的利潤。鑒于谷歌和其他西方互聯網巨頭基本上被中國拒之門外,沒有哪個國家比印度更有機會為它們的業務增添數億消費者。投資銀行Jefferies駐舊金山的一位分析師布倫特·蒂爾表示:“這是世界上數一數二的人口大國,其收入水平比其他地方低很多,所以很有挑戰性。”不過,在他看來,坐擁1000多億美元現金的谷歌完全有能力花費數年時間來打造印度業務,而不必為成本問題勞神。“他們可以動用強大得令人難以置信的資產基礎,來追逐這個潛在的數字消費大國。”蒂爾說。

去年晚些時候走訪印度各地時,這一切都清晰無誤地展示在我面前。無論是在偏遠的村莊,還是在廣闊的孟買和新德里都市區,我都嘗試著了解谷歌是如何在印度建設其基礎設施,以及這個國家如何成為該公司的一個重要實驗室的。谷歌正在全面擴展其印度業務。但這一進程既費時又費錢。谷歌拒絕量化其在印度的投資。“這是個很大的數字。”阿南丹這樣說道。他是谷歌負責該地區業務的一把手。“這是我們將在未來10到15年持續進行的一項投資,其目的是讓更多的人上網。”他補充說,真正賺得利潤是“一項長期目標”。谷歌也不愿透露其在印度的業務規模,但分析師認為其年收入為13億美元,僅占該公司2018年1360億美元營收的很小一部分。

盡管如此,谷歌在印度工作所產生的影響絕不限于這一個國家,它還擴散到非常遙遠的地方,其中包括遠在7000多英里之外,坐落于加州山景城的谷歌總部。印度正在越來越多地成為谷歌最終進軍其他數十個新興市場時遵循的藍圖。在這些新興市場,貧困、文盲和昂貴但緩慢的服務讓大多數人無法上網。其中包括一些世界上增長最快的經濟體,比如擁有2.6億人口的印度尼西亞,以及人口有望在2050年超過美國的尼日利亞。谷歌“下一個十億用戶”團隊的產品管理總監喬什·伍德沃德表示:“我們正在從零開始構思產品。”該公司于2015年創立了這支專注于新市場的團隊。“倘若你要為孟買而不是山景城打造一款產品,你會打造什么?”闡釋該部門的研發方式時,伍德沃德這樣問道。他們預計,這些產品將經歷“幾代人”的演變。

谷歌的現任高管們很可能等不到這個問題最終被回答的那一天。他們也知道,那些設法把互聯網服務帶給更多人的公司要做的,是一件天大的好事——當然也會借此大賺一筆。“最大的問題是,如何才能讓他們上網?”谷歌的阿南丹問道。“在這方面,印度肯定會為我們提供很多寶貴的經驗教訓。”

For Western companies vying to increase their slice of global markets, India’s steep digital trajectory has proved a strong draw. Perhaps no company embodies the huge hurdles of ramping up in India, and the huge payoff it might bring, as much as Google. The company’s growth depends on finding ever more users, as advertising drives more than 80% of its profits. Given that Google and other Western giants essentially are shut out of China, no other country offers a bigger opportunity to add hundreds of millions of consumers than India. “This is one of the largest populations in the world, with an income base that is a lot lower than elsewhere, so it is challenging,” says Brent Thill, an analyst in San Francisco with investment bank Jefferies. Still, he says, with more than $100 billion in cash, Google can spend years creating its India business without fretting over the cost. “They have an incredible asset base to use to go after that population,” Thill says.

That much was plain when I crisscrossed the country late last year, from remote villages to the vast urban sprawl of Mumbai and New Delhi, to see how Google was building its infrastructure in India, as well as how the country has become a crucial testing lab for the company. The process of scaling up Google’s India business is in full swing. But it will be both long and costly. Google declines to quantify its investment in India. “It is a lot,” says Anandan, the region’s top executive. “It is an investment we are going to make for the next 10 to 15 years, to really get people online,” he says, adding that true profitability “is long term.” Google also won’t describe the size of its business in India, but analysts peg annual revenue at $1.3 billion, a paltry portion of the company’s $136 billion in 2018 revenues.

The impact of Google’s work in India, nonetheless, is being felt not only in India but also far beyond, including more than 7,000 miles away, at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Increasingly, India is becoming the blueprint for Google’s eventual push into dozens of other emerging markets, where poverty, illiteracy, and costly but slow service have kept most people off the Internet. These include some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, like Indonesia, with 260 million people, and Nigeria, whose population is on track to overtake that of the U.S. by 2050. “We are thinking of products from scratch,” says Josh Woodward, director of product management for Google’s “next billion users” team, which the company formed in 2015 to focus on new markets. “If you were to build a product for Mumbai and not Mountain View, what would you build?” asks Woodward, illustrating the unit’s approach, which it expects to evolve over “generations.”

Google’s executives likely will not be around to see how that question is answered. They also know there is genuine good to be done—and a ton of money to be made—by the companies that figure out how to bring Internet service to the vast numbers who still don’t have it. “The big question is, What does it take to get them connected?” asks Google’s Anandan. “India absolutely will tell us a lot about what it really takes.”

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