By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
In many ways, there has never been a better time to be an Asian content creator. Viewers of all ages have started to embrace the flexibility offered by digital media, and over-the-top (OTT) platforms around the world are actively looking for fresh content, broadening the market for small independents and large companies alike.
“We are seeing more and more strong content coming out of Asia and the rest of the world is now looking at what else this region can produce,” D.J. Lee, President (Media Content Business) of CJ E&M, told a panel at the Asia TV Forum and Market 2016, one of the many events under the Singapore Media Festival (SMF), which ran from 23 November to 9 December 2016.
“I’d agree it’s the best time to be a content creator,” Cheah Chee Kong, Chief Content Officer at Mediacorp, told another session, noting that international service providers are combing the region, “hungry for original and unique content”.
But with so many different content offerings and an increasing number of platforms to watch them on, there are challenges to building audiences, as well as monetising the new platforms in a highly competitive environment. How to ride the digital disruption wave and stay afloat was at the heart of discussions throughout the two-week event.
Here are three key takeaway points:
1. Building the right partnership early is key to riding that wave
Exclusive original content is important to differentiate platform offerings amid increasing competition that can require significant investment. But partnerships and collaborations are necessary, not only at the development level but along the entire digital chain, as one of the key issues facing content developers is no longer distribution but discovery.
“We’re seeing a new era of international collaborations much earlier in the development chain; format creators, network distributors and sponsors are getting together much earlier to co-create formats that will travel,” said Keri Lewis Brown, founder of TV trends consultancy K7 Media. She pointed to the recent success of leading Korean entertainment group CJ E&M and Endemol Shine Group working together to co-develop The Society Game, a gameshow based on different political systems and leadership styles, which is now generating a bidding war for local formatting globally.
Speaking about that project, Fontini Paraskakis, Managing Director of Endemol Shine Group Asia, said the collaboration had been a learning curve. “Each team came with different sets of ideas and different expectations, and different ways of working. It actually took a few months to understand each other; that was one of the biggest hurdles. But we ended up creating a new idea from scratch.” Fontini explained that while the Korean team brought the creative spark, the Dutch-based media group brought global expertise and understanding of audiences.
Sashim Parmanand, CEO of One Animation, said that while great storytelling remains at the core of their business, finding the right partnership (in their case with Disney and Nickelodeon) had proven important to raise the visibility of the local 3D animation studio. “Viewers need to be able to discover your content first, then they will go on your digital platform to consume even more.”
She added, “In our industry, great content will be a game changer regardless of the platform you’re working with. People often say the mantra is ‘story, story, story’, but I think the mantra should be ‘story, characters, characters’, because it’s the characters that drive you to keep watching.”
Mediacorp’s Chee Kong pointed out that while the original concept was “obviously important, a certain amount of investment doesn’t hurt”, advising content creators “not to put all their eggs in one basket”, working on just one project thinking this will be their big hit, but instead working on several projects.
2. Branded content and SVoD (subscription video on demand) are the way forward for monetisation
Industry players noted that though advertising revenue on OTT platforms remains low for the time being, this will change. They remain bullish when looking ahead, asserting the future for branded content and paid subscription looks bright.
Antoine Nazaret, Head of Content at Dailymotion, noted digital media brings new opportunities for sponsorship and product placement that is interactive. “There is a real battle to catch the attention very quickly and that takes skill. Advertising on mobile needs to be very appealing, and agencies and brands are actually paying more now for a six-second advert than the 30-second format,” he said.
Vikram Channa, VP Production and Development at Discovery, said that in the era of digital disruption, “everything becomes storytelling” with a need for sophisticated branded content within the storytelling. “There is a real opportunity here, because it’s sky blue ocean time. Every stakeholder and players are experimenting and creating partnerships that are commercially led.”
Derek Tan, co-founder of Viddsee, explained that the online entertainment platform has been monetising branded content presented in a narrative form on the platform. “We are working directly with brands to co-produce content with them and act as a content incubator.”
Guillaume Sachet, Head of Strategic Planning at Mediacorp, said it was important to start engaging with brands at a very early stage of the production. He said, “At the end of the day, you want content that is appealing to the audience, but content that will also sell to the brand. If you just produce the content working between the programming and the production and then only go to the brand once it’s finished, you’re just selling them a product not a solution.”
The issues of piracy and whether Asian customers will be willing to pay for quality video content were often raised during the festival. But participants were hopeful that the tide was turning in Asia and that consumers would be increasingly willing to pay for exclusive content. But Prashant Gokarn, Chief Strategy & Digital Services Officer from Indonesian telecom provider Indosat Ooredoo, noted that the right price point was very important to limit piracy in the region.
Joanne Waage, COO of partnerships and programming at Viki, explained that while her company’s business model has primarily been relying on advertising, the SVoD service had started to grow much faster and from only 10% of revenues this year, she expects subscriptions to account for two thirds of overall revenues by the end of next year. But she also noted that offering some kind of “freemium” business model for consumers to sample the offering is important.
3. Using data analytics is vital to understanding audiences
One Animation’s Sashim pointed out that the current interactive digital environment has opened areas of engagement with audiences and these should be capitalised on. “We can engage more as they tell us what they like and don’t like. And we’re able to refine our storyline for them, which is very new.”
Beyond direct audience feedback, looking at data is a less subjective way to get a better understanding of audiences.
Chee Kong said that data analytics is important even in content creation. “I’m a creative guy but I love data, it really gives me an objective point of view. Nowadays, the consumer insight, consumer panels are very smartly done and they are like street lights to me that illuminate the path we can take.”
Yuan Li, Chief Content Officer at international entertainment business IPCN, agreed that analysing data was important, though he added more still needs to be done to understand users’ expectations on how to offer digital content.
The marketing potential of VR data analytics was also noted as an important new trend, and though the use of technology is still in its infancy, Stephen Lee, Head of i3, StarHub, pointed out that VR can provide a significant additional data set with the head device tracking eye movement making it a very powerful tool for marketers. “For us, monetisation from a VR perspective will come more from data analytics,” he said.