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Asia-Pacific’s mobile conundrum

With diverse regional and cultural differences, the vast Asia-Pacific region delivers a big challenge for publishers: how to service a wide audience while staying relevant and valuable.

Rohit Dadwal, managing director of the Mobile Marketing Association Asia Pacific, explains more ahead of his talk at FIPP Asia-Pacific, taking place in Singapore from 27-28 September (buy your ticket here, if you haven’t yet).

Rohit Dadwal ()

Asia-Pacific is a vast region with lots of cultural and social differences. What sort of trends are you seeing around mobile and how are those regional differences influencing trends?

It’s true that the mobile revolution’s happening across the board, but as you rightly say there are definitely cultural nuances. Western Europe and the US tend to become homogenous markets across countries, but Asia is not the same. Asia is really four different continents within one.

We have the mature world, primarily driven out of Japan and Korea – which is vast and futuristic, and where everything is happening on mobile.

We have the other developed markets, like Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, which are pretty much replicating what we see across some of the Western European countries.

Then we have a segment that I refer to as the big two – China and India. These two markets operate separate to anything that happens in any other place, any other country, and any other part of the world. 

And we also have a large group of emerging markets: Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. These are seeing a lot of local innovation. That innovation is being driven primarily by the lack of PC internet, which means the innovation in these markets is being driven out of mobile.  

So the nuances are definitely there.

How do those cultural nuances effect consumption habits in the region?

Consumption habits can be very different, even between China and India, and the developing markets. The consumption habits are different because of the language, because of rural versus urban challenges, and also because a lot of these markets have seen the internet revolution happen on mobile – which means the consumption of this type of content services is happening in these markets for the first time. They’ve never been exposed to it before, so their expectations around engagement are very different from what you and I are exposed to. Even when we look at the evolution of a singular service, such as messaging, it is different in each of these countries – and that’s the reason why there’s no single dominant service that spreads across Asia Pacific. There is no one dominant technology because every market is trying to figure out what’s best based on its own infrastructure, based on the network and the bandwidth issues it has.

How are the traditional publishers responding to this and how is it impacting revenue streams?

That’s a very interesting question. I think the traditional publishers are trying to replicate their services for mobile and for digital, but many of them have not been able to invest enough technology resources to adapt. I’ll give you an example or two. If you take markets like India, Indonesia and China, while 4G-bandwidth is available, 90% of the region actually still works on 2G. When you’re trying to provide content for these services as an existing publisher, you are adapting your content to cater to that 10 per cent, because they are the first users of it and the first to consume content. But when you want to go beyond that, it is very challenging, because you cannot produce one piece of content and serve it across 100 per cent of the audience. You need to start producing content for the first 10%, the next 30%, and the next 60 per cent. That’s not happening and that’s where the challenge is for monetising content.

The other issue is that a lot of this content is being repurposed for mobile media and I don’t think the consumers should be dealt only repurposed content. I think the content has to be rewritten, adapted and reproduced to cater to these segments. Just repurposing the content on a new device or on a new screen is not going to help. In addition there are the local challenges – regional languages and uneducated or low-educated markets. You need to provide for those nuances and publishers are still a little way behind with that. What most of the traditional publishers have been able to do is to cater to the top 20-25 per cent of the population, which primarily is the smartphone population. But 70% of Asia is not on smartphone.

What is the impact on revenues and just how big could the opportunity be?

This is about the changing landscape of the consumers. Where I am coming from is that mobile is a very fast moving industry. While it’s a very nascent industry – mobile adverting and marketing is all of six, seven years old as an industry – we are trying to compare it to TV, print, radio and outdoor. And then we say, oh, it’s not grown as much as another has. We have to understand that we are trying to compare a e.g. 100 year-old business to a seven year-old business. We still have growth. We have billions of dollars’ worth of mobile advertising happening, which today constitutes maybe 4-10% in any of these markets. But that 10 per cent has happened in 4-5 years, compared with industries that have taken 50 years to get to that 10 per cent mark of media spend. So I think we need to put that in perspective when we are having this discussion.

More importantly, from a consumer perspective, the landscape is changing so quickly that people don’t even recognise what they used to use as a service seven years back. Consumers have a very short lifecycle for services now. And these services need to either adapt themselves or morph into other services, because consumers are always looking for personal benefit. Given that it’s a personal device, they want that personal a-ha moment and personal tangible benefit, delivered to them at that very moment.  

So you can’t rely on your heritage and the loyalty of your audience. You have to keep giving the audiences what they want, otherwise you’ll just lose them, right?

Yes. And unlike in the traditional business, where you had a subscription model, where you had limited choice, here the consumer is one click away from leaving your service. There are now many more options and those options actually create a new landscape for the consumer, because now each publisher, each blogger, each author can be extremely niche. They can be niche in a way that allows them to focus solely on one issue or one subject. If you take a product such as Hunger Games, for example, which has a fan following of, say, 10 million around the world, then a start-up can focus on just that issue and give you the depth and the quality that a more generic, traditional publisher can’t. It’s very difficult for traditional publishers to carve those niches out if they don’t do it from the ground up.

Several sessions at FIPP Asia-Pacific will focus on mobile and mobile-related content and services – apart from Rohit, hear from Dushyant Khare (Google), Stewart Hunter (Sojern), Kim Ki Won (Korean Magazine Association), Don Anderson (YouTube), Laurie Benson (Upnexxt), Yan Chen (Hearst, focusing on WeChat), John Wilpers (Innovation Media Consulting) and more. See the agenda here.

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