This is an Article I first wrote for Digital Leaders

In digital terms, Europe is a divided continent. While Western European exports of information and communications technology (ICT) are a relatively buoyant 4.4%, the rest of the continent manages less than a quarter of that. Russia and Turkey’s ICT exports in 2017 were 0.3% of GDP1.

If ever there was a case for not hitching your wagon to a continent’s digital economy, this is it.

As Immerse UK’s recent Immersive economy report highlights our nascent immersive businesses in the UK are very export friendly &  Brexit gives the UK an opportunity to seek new digital partners, countries as innovative and energised as our own with, crucially, a pressing need to harness new technology. Countries like India.

India’s immersive economy may be small at present, but it’s growing fast. I recently represented BIMA on an Innovate UK trade mission that took in Hyderabad, Banagalore & Mumbai. I saw an emphasis on enterprise and B2B applications of, for example, VR in medical care and education. Why does India feel the need to place a greater focus on such technologies than Europe? “Frankly,” I was told  “because we have bigger problems than you.” In Hyderabad the government have made a commitment for clean drinking water in every household. At the same time that they lay the drains they’ve decided to lay internet fibre as well.

A nation on the move

India & the UK are about to swap places in terms of where they stand in the global economy. The UK currently retains its 5th position but India 6th is closing fast.

50% of India’s population is under 25 and 65% is under 35; the UK has an aging population with an average age of 40. Whilst only one fifth of Indians subscribed to an internet service in 2015, that figure has increased to almost a third (almost 400 million people) in just three years. And in the next few years India will overtake China and become the most populous nation on Earth.

Indian eCommerce has seen double digit growth over the last two years. India consumes more mobile data than anywhere else in the world, as newcomers like the mobile network Jio give it away for for free in pursuit market dominance.  India also now exports more tech graduates than anywhere else in the world with Google, Microsoft & Adobe all having Indian born CEO’s. The country’s digital services economy includes a booming visual effects and post production industry, which western TV and film production companies have used to develop effects for (amongst many others) Interstellar, Gravity, the James Bond franchise and Game of Thrones.

India has always had a very strong background in IT and engineering – but now as we shift to a mobile centric internet & content shapes start to change, the country needs to ensure its digital economy shifts with it.

And that’s where the UK comes in….

Indian opportunity

You really can’t overstate how big cricket is in India. It’s a sporting titan, and the biggest of them all is the IPL, a franchise worth around $3.6 billion. This year Facebook made a $600 million bid for the IPL’s digital rights but lost out to Star TV.

This year Star began a VR rollout as an innovation exercise. To date, 4 million people have experienced the IPL in VR. 200,000+ are coming back each week. These are numbers that dwarf even the most well received VR initiatives in the UK.

The sheer size and scale of the Indian market, with its burgeoning middle class and an insatiable appetite for content over mobile is what makes this a fascinating place to observe and learn from. For UK brands and agencies there are huge opportunities and huge lessons to learn. This is a country that values and revels in its own history & culture. When my conversation with Star TV turned to social media strategy and working with platforms like Facebook the response was positively dismissive. India’s attitude is why use someone else’s platform when they can create one that meets their needs far more effectively.  Certainly, Star TV with streaming rights, play along quizzes, and fan engagement strategies all on mobile does not feel it needs Facebook to reach a large audience.

The investment paradise

Last year, India’s Prime Minister Shri Narender Modi met Vladimir Putin to extoll the virtues of investment in India’s digital future. The India Times described it as an “investment paradise.” UK agencies would do well to listen to the Prime Minister’s pitch.

There are 51 million start-ups and SMEs in India. Many of them are operating in the tech space. As I discovered on my latest visit, they are driven, hungry and operating on a scale that puts the rest of the world (US excepted) to shame.

Rudyard Kipling, no stranger to life and storytelling in India, once said “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Well India’s digital economy is shifting to accommodate more content and more stories. Post-Brexit, there’s a huge opportunity for a culturally sensitive UK sector rich in storytelling, marketing & Creative Industries  expertise to help tell those stories – and partner with India as it transforms into global leader.