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Window on the future: online video in Asia

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TV is changing. Not in the nature or format of shows that audiences watch – but in the way that consumers discover, consume and interact with content. While it is no secret that platforms like YouTube and Hulu are having a big impact on US audiences, the most disruptive and insightful lessons are to be found elsewhere. Asia, in fact.

I recently completed a research report for the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CNNIC) on the current state of online video in the Asia region. What we found was very interesting. In China, Japan and Korea there is a very active, youth-driven media consumption culture that expects free on-demand entertainment and are frighteningly proficient in utilising online video, social media, gaming and web connected mobile devices to get what they want.

All three countries represent both significant media markets in their own right, as well as lead indicators for new consumption patterns in other territories. With over 253 million internet users, of which over 180 million are regular viewers of online video content, China has already surpassed the United States as the largest internet audience in the world. Korea, with 83.2 million online users, has both the highest penetration rate of broadband connections as well as the fastest broadband infrastructure anywhere. Finally, Japan, with more consumers accessing the internet from their mobile phone than their desktop PCs, has a history of mobile web innovation established long before the introduction of the iPhone into the US.

Asia is a fascinating social laboratory to explore how TV audiences are evolving and, in doing, so we produced a two part video documentary to accompany our research. Both are embedded at the bottom of this post. 

Here are a few of the insights from the report:

1. The internet has become a primary entertainment destination.
For young Asian consumers, the internet is entertainment – particularly in China. A survey by the China Youth Daily and Sina in January 2008 indicated that more than 80% of young Chinese placed the Web as their primary source of entertainment, compared to TV at 66%.

2. Social discovery drives the popularity of content rather than traditional programming or marketing campaigns. 
When it comes to the discovery of content – blogs, referrals through instant messaging clients, BBS boards and top ten lists on video sharing sites have the most influence. In China, according to the CNNIC, 63.7% of video content is discovered through social connections (94.1% of this sharing takes place in instant message tools such as QQ and MSN).

3. Long-form professional content is the most popular format
Although the West is just now getting a taste of long form video on the web, in Asia it has been the most popular format for a while. A staggering 86.3% of the online video watched by Chinese netizens is either studio created films or TV shows. In Korea, 47% of users had illegally downloaded at least 55 movies a year – more than one a week.

4. Audiences actively participate in content experiences
In Japan, the most popular video sharing site, Nico Nico Douga (Smiley Smiley Video), attracts almost a billion page views a month. The most distinctive feature of the site is an on-screen commenting function, where user messages scroll as commentaries across the video while playing, like a form of visual karaoke.

5. Consumption is communal
Asian teenagers enjoy being online together. China has about 113,000 licensed Cyber Cafes, with many more operating illegally while in Korea, despite strong home broadband connections, most youths prefer to socialise in one of the 26,000 PC Baangs.

6. User anonymity is important
One of the major differences between Western and Eastern online users is the importance of privacy and anonymity. Most Japanese online users prefer to use imaginary names and cartoon avatars rather than photos to represent themselves, while in China, much of the attraction of bulletin board systems is the ability to post comments without revealing your actual identity. YouTube in Japan, after attempting to encourage greater amounts of user-generated content, is now focused on the more culturally acceptable practice of uploading cute pet videos.

7. Local brands dominate the online video landscape 
For both cultural and technical reasons, local video sharing sites in Asia have generally been more successful than foreign players such as YouTube. In Japan, Nico Nico Douga is very popular. In Korea, the dominant site is PandoraTV. And in China, the top two sites are Youku and Todou.

There is little doubt that media companies in Asia face challenging times ahead. Already, online user behaviour is reshaping traditional content value chains – from the DVD market to the broadcast syndication sector. New digital aggregators and revenue models are emerging, but it’s still early days.

However, even for players in the West, it is worth keeping an eye on what is happening in these fast growth markets. The very conditions that make Asia such a disruptive market for consumer behaviour – lax copyright, fast broadband, urban youth subcultures, advanced mobile devices – are also fast becoming global trends. As the rest of the world joins the party, you can rest assured, the future of TV will not be far behind.
 

Australian Mike Walsh is a leading authority and keynote speaker on the digital media revolution. He is the author of the book ‘Futuretainment’ and advises some of Australia’s leading companies and brands on technology innovation through his digital consultancy, Tomorrow. Sign up for Mike’s free newsletter at http://www.mike-walsh.com.

If you would like a copy of the written executive summary (CNNIC) or details on the executive workshop series Mike will be running on the topic, you can contact him here.

 

 

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