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The Billion Readers (BIRD) Initiative

place India + 1 more

Every Indian a fluent reader.

Of the one billion “literates” in India, 600 million Indians are weak readers who cannot read simple texts. Six out of 10 weak & non-readers are girls & women. A billion Indians watch nearly four hours of TV every day. BIRD guarantees daily and lifelong reading practice for a billion Indians by adding Same Language Subtitling (SLS) on mainstream entertainment on television & streaming platforms.

HundrED 2024


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED Global Collection 2024

Web presence






Target group
March 2023
Our goal is to provide a billion Indians guaranteed daily and lifelong reading practice in their language(s) to serve one vision: Every Indian, a fluent reader. Sharply focused on girls & women, a nationwide scale-up of SLS, will create an enduring impact at population scale improving reading literacy, language learning and media access among Deaf & Hard of Hearing (DHH) people.

About the innovation

Why did you create this innovation?

India has a population of 1.4 billion and a literacy rate of 80%. However, the quality of literacy is alarmingly low. India is estimated to have 600 million weak readers and 250 million non-readers. Children fall behind in reading from the early grades and weak skills only erode overtime due to lack of reading practice. Six out of 10 weak and non-readers are girls and women.

What does your innovation look like in practice?

BIRD provides a billion Indians guaranteed daily and lifelong reading practice in their language(s). We are adding Same Language Subtitling (SLS) on mainstream entertainment content on television and streaming platforms to serve one vision: Every Indian, a fluent reader. Simply put, SLS is the idea of subtitling audio-visual (AV) content in the ‘same’ language as the audio. Viewers get to read what they see and hear on the screen on all popularly watched entertainment, such as, films, serials and cartoons. For example, SLS on one film means exposure to 14,000 words, equivalent to a novel for young adults. Regular SLS exposure at home on TV, over 2-3 years, doubles the number of functional readers. Eye-tracking and pilot studies have shown SLS exposure causes automatic and effortless reading practice even among weak readers. International leaders like Bill Clinton, Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi, and Stephen Fry have noted the power of SLS based on our work and repository of evidence.

How has it been spreading?

Our work has driven national broadcast policy. After two decades of evidence-based-policymaking, SLS is now a policy under the Ministry of Broadcasting. Half the entertainment content on TV, in every language, state, and channel, is mandated to carry SLS by 2025. BIRD has developed a strong system change strategy for reading literacy at a national scale centred around impacting girls and women. In 2022, BIRD received a transformative grant of $6.5M from Co-Impact for system acceptance and implementation of SLS on TV and streaming.

As BIRD enters into a hyper-scale phase to scale SLS in 12 Indian languages in the next 5 years, BIRD is actively seeking partnerships with governments, private television networks, and streaming platforms to ensure reading literacy at a transformative scale.

If I want to try it, what should I do?

There is growing global interest in SLS because it is relevant anywhere where people watch video-based entertainment and where reading skills are in need of improvement. BIRD's subtitled quality content, solutions, and AI tools can be used by the industry and government as they are all open source and not proprietary, which will allow them to use the tools at scale without worrying about cost.

Impact & scalability

HundrED Academy Reviews

BIRD's implementation of Same Language Subtitling has already had a strong impact on improving the reading levels of many people. Supporting this initiative to include further languages will surely continue to show positive results in this domain.

As AI tools for Same Language Subtitling are open source and not proprietary, this allows interested institutions to use them at scale without worrying about cost making BIRD a highly scalable project overall.

- Academy member
Academy review results
Read more about our selection process

Implementation steps

Establish Key Partnerships
Partner with central and state governments, private television networks, streaming platforms to scale SLS in 12 Indian languages.
Conduct Baseline Surveys
Conduct baseline surveys to assess media consumption patterns, preferences across demographics, states, languages, devices, channels, programmes.
High-Quality Content Creation
Create high quality subtitled content, feeding into the development of open AI tools for use by the industry and government.
AI to Reduce Cost
Strengthen the AI interface, language, ASR tool to reduce cost of subtitling by 3x. The platform will allow language experts to clean up the ~85% accurate SLS file to achieve 100% accuracy.
Sustainability of SLS
Work with the government for the sustainability of SLS to become a permanent feature of television broadcasting in India.

Spread of the innovation

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