Why the Growth of Mobile in China is Pushing Media Innovation: Insights from the asi APAC TV Conference

Last week I was pleased to participate at the asi APAC TV Conference alongside many fine industry veterans. One of the simplest (and most revealing) questions we asked: Why hold the event in Singapore?

The short answer: Because huge innovation exists in Asia right now, and the effects on the mobile audience measurement market are equally huge.

We asked Mike Sainsbury, the Chairman of asi, to comment on the decision to host the event in Asia:

The move to introduce an APAC “edition” of the well-established European TV conference was initially driven by the request to do so from a number of delegates attending that event. The speed of technological developments affecting the TV industry is so great and the solutions to the problems of measuring these so complex that no “one-size-fits-all” solution is likely to provide the answer. There is increasing evidence that cooperative solutions are being sought where a number of research agencies work together to provide such metrics for total video consumption across all devices. Where markets are at different stages of development during this period of technological change there is a greater need than ever for people to share experiences as they all work to resolve these issues.Although many countries in the APAC region have less developed measurement systems than elsewhere, they are far more advanced in the adoption of certain technologies, especially mobile, which persuaded us that a further benefit would be learnings to be shared between the two “editions” of this conference.

We also asked Richard Marks, ex-Kantar Media executive and host of the panel, for his opinion about the decision to host the event in Singapore. He responded:

Singapore has become something of a media hub for the region, with many international media corporations and agencies moving their regional offices there in the last few years; and it seemed the ideal location for a conference like asi.In the past, researchers in the region may have looked to the West to guide development of measurement systems. However, I think that the significance of the APAC event is that the rapid pace of change in the region and the adoption of mobile in particular is making the exchange of information increasingly more balanced, particularly when it comes to a more open appraisal of what is – and isn’t – television. 

How Media is Pushing Innovation in China

Different countries have different media habits. Specifically, countries that are developing their media markets adopt mobile and consume video content in higher numbers than countries with established markets. This is quite clear in China, where our own Verto Analytics data shows that time spent on smartphones is directly competing with time spent on PCs.

This trend is clearly affecting innovation and the speed of growth. Simply put, the Asian media market is exploding, but in established markets (like the U.S., for example), strong TV and desktop Internet usage patterns tend to hold back some of the more radical innovation around mobile.

The PC-centric players like Microsoft (to say nothing of the giants of the TV world — CBS, Viacom, etc.) move slowly. Meanwhile, mobile-centric publishers and content companies are pushing ahead in fresh, new ways; In markets like China, consumers leapfrogged ahead of the PC industry and adopted mobile.

  • WeChat has already out-innovated Facebook in the messaging apps sector.
  • There’s an identical trend in the mobile-payments landscape, where several Chinese companies had already introduced mobile payment apps well before Apple Pay was even rumored to exist.

The bottom line is, if you want to see the future of online and mobile today, do not look to the U.S. or UK – instead, visit Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing and observe how the big local Internet giants do business and how consumers engage with their platforms.

Why Does Chinese Mobile Usage Peak during TV Prime Time?

Mobile use in many Asian countries has been able to either 1) catch up or 2) outperform their Western counterparts precisely because there was no incumbent media legacy. Because the first generation PC/desktop Internet market was so poor and immature in China, mobile-centric players like QQ and WeChat had more to gain, more impetus to innovate, and more opportunities to make consumers happy and loyal to their mobile offerings. They did not have to replace something old – they just developed the right solutions for consumers to spend time with the screen.

We believe this is one reason Verto data shows stronger peaks for mobile during the prime-time hours in China than in other countries. Traditional TV was never very strong in China; therefore, mobile does not “compete” with traditional TV in the way it does in the U.S.

Implications for Advertisers and Audience-Measurement Methodologies

Given these differences among countries, it is ideal to measure old media and new media in a comparable fashion. This will help establish a strong foundation for advertisers who look for increasingly international coordinated ad spend across the borders and media channels.

For example, if one puts PC and mobile data on the same level, with comparable measurement of total monthly time spent, Chinese audiences spend almost as much time with their smartphones as they spend on PCs. However, if time spent on tablets is also counted, the Chinese actually spend more time with mobile than on PCs.

It is also clear that the boundaries between countries are dissolving. Today’s major advertising platforms already provide a global venue to buy traffic, audience and engagement. English is increasingly becoming the lingua franca across apps and the web, and publishers can reach audiences instantly across the globe. The question is no longer how to spend money in a local market to engage with your audience, but instead:

  1. Which markets you should launch in?
  2. In which order should you launch?
  3. Which combination of advertising channels and devices should you use?

Big mobile gaming companies are great examples of this newfound global agility. Supercell, the mobile game industry’s top money-making machine, employs only 180 people but operates its games successfully on a multi-country model.

The Role of Video Content

Video content is also going international, driving the increasing globalization of the media landscape. The market share across all devices for YouTube (in most markets outside of China) is huge. Some YouTube hits, like Gangnam Style, reach truly global viral growth patterns.

The Chinese giants are also expanding to content, acquiring rights for American movies and TV shows in addition to creating original content, like Netflix does in the U.S. We should not link local audiences to local content providers or distributors anymore. Rather, as consumers access international content and services, vendors/suppliers of content must run multi-country, multi-screen marketing tactics.

The Need for a Cross-Platform Metrics and Measurement Standard

Based on feedback to my talk at asi in Singapore, both clients and vendors in the media industry agree that the audience measurement world is indeed cross-platform. However, I think we need to ensure that the market can decide on the right standards and new metrics/methodologies.

Nielsen and other big companies can always play with their power and reputation, as they have a legacy to protect. But they don’t always have an impetus to drive innovation in this space. Frank Foster, a consultant who most recently served as SVP, general manager, for TiVo Research and Analytics, recently addressed this issue in an interview with Audience Buying Insider:

That said, we do need standards but there’s no rush. Until a couple of years ago, we had no cross-platform measurement. I would prefer an open approach, where we don’t necessarily default to the dominant providers, but also give new companies with new ideas a chance to devise solutions. Let’s spend a few years trying secondary metrics with secondary guarantees associated with a variety of approaches in the real world. Spend the money, share the results, and let buyers and sellers determine and negotiate what works, rather than trying to figure it all out in three days behind closed doors.

After a week spent speaking to media clients and vendors in Asia, the major conclusion was clear: we need to understand these cultures and the media domain, and work towards making sure that the right independent media measurement data is available to conduct comparisons internationally.

To learn more about what we do, or how our data can help your business measure its audience, contact us or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.