Event Review: AVIA Wraps Up Its First Hybrid Asia Video Summit

Taking place in a hybrid format, the annual Asia Video Summit this year was aimed at understanding the state of the video industry in 2020.

The Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA), a trade association for the video industry and ecosystem in Asia-Pacific, held its Asia Video Summit in a hybrid format (a combination of both physical and virtual) this year from November 10-12.

In this, the third year of the Summit, it focused on five key themes: Remember television?, Sporting times, Streaming ahead, Premium advertising, and Talking tech, along with a special session on advancing gender equality in the media industry. AVIA hosted live conferences from both Hong Kong and Singapore, with around 50 attendees each.

“What is clear is that our industry is changing and the pace of that change quickens. It is almost irrelevant whether we think that is for the better or worse. What is important is we all put our best foot forward, and work towards growth and success. And that is the only reason AVIA exists,” Louis Boswell, CEO of AVIA, said in his opening remarks.

Chief among Boswell’s concerns for the industry, is the issue of piracy, which he labelled a “threat to the success of [the] industry.”

“Piracy has unequivocally contributed to very significant declines in the linear pay-TV ecosystem. It has equally impeded the growth of streaming services, both those that are monetized through subscription and advertising,” he added.

He said that the “fight against piracy can be won” or “the problem contained” and that governments are recognizing the problem and doing more.

The event saw panel discussions on a number of topics such as the state of Free to Air and Pay TV in Asia today, the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and the media industry, challenges in the sports industry this year, the streaming industry, and innovations in the industry, among others.

Here are some of the highlights from Asia Video Summit 2020:

How will COVID-19 impact APAC economies in the year to come?

As Asia’s economies begin to recover from COVID-19, the opening presentation of the conference struck a highly relevant note. Featuring Shaun Roache, Chief Economist (APAC) at S&P Global Ratings, and AVIA CEO Louis Boswell, the session discussed Asia’s economy and evaluated possible recovery scenarios for the near future.

In a brief presentation on the macroeconomy, Roache noted that while the economic worst has passed, demand is likely to remain “well below normal levels” for some time, at least until herd immunity is achieved.

Roache explained that in the second quarter of this year, there was a “huge divergence of performance” across Asia Pacific economies. While India saw activities 25% below normal levels, the decline wasn’t as bad in others. In Q3, some economies recovered slightly, but Roache emphasized that full recover was unlikely before mid-2021. He added that there could even be “permanent damage to the level of economic activity.”

The pandemic also saw consumer behaviors changing and benefiting sectors such as manufacturing and foreign trade. Asia Pacific’s total exports are now growing, and there has been a “turnaround in Asia Pacific trade” which is helping the region, Roache noted.

However, the pandemic has also hit some of the most job-rich sectors of the economy, such as hospitality and retail, resulting in severe job losses.

Roache further outlined what policymakers should do and what to expect from policy across the region. Across the region, he said, governments and central banks are “taking early targeted action to cushion the blow and provide that bridge to the recovery.”

Meanwhile, global growth forecasts show Asia Pacific economy shrinking 2% this year and growing 7% next year. Roache added that the Asia Pacific region will rebound faster next year, helped by China, as well as the U.S., Australia, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

The future of Chinese entertainment

To discuss the future of Chinese entertainment platforms as they start entering the Southeast Asian markets, this session featured Yu-Chuang Kuek, iQIYI VP of International Business, Kaichen Li, Head of Tencent’s WeTV and iFlix, and Ivy Wong, CEO of VS Media. The session was moderated by Divya Gopalan, Freelance News Anchor and Correspondent.

WeTV & iFlix, which was acquired by Tencent, are among the many products from Tencent that are expanding to the Southeast Asian (SEA) market as part of a “group strategic focus.” Li noted that the popularity of Chinese content has been increasing among SEA audiences.

Explaining iQIYI’s reasons for entering the SEA market, Kuek said, “As we see different growth spots in the world, it’s great that China is a good market for many businesses, but you also have businesses with aspirations to grow beyond China.”

He also noted that in the next five years, broadband distribution in SEA is expected to grow by triple digits. Combined with a fairly young population, SEA makes for “a very interesting place to try to gain a foothold in.”

VS Media, a network that signs up young short-form content creators and helps them to create, distribute, and monetize their content, now also helps creators to expand outside of China. VS Media CEO Ivy Wong noted that global millennials have started watching more Chinese drama in the last two years.

Echoing this, Kuek added that there has been a lot of interest in Chinese content from Thailand and Vietnam. Separately, while Indonesia makes for an interesting market due to its scale and demographics, Malaysia and Singapore have stronger communities of Chinese diaspora.

Wong said that in the last few years in China, there has been growing support for young creators, who are not only looking at subscription or advertising revenue but even getting into social ecommerce.

Li, however, noted that unlike the short-form video model (which can diversify monetization methods), for long-form video platforms, a large part of the revenue stream continues to be derived from ads and subscriptions.

At a time when no single streaming company has gained a foothold in SEA markets, Kuek said that “the customer is king” and “the only remedy for a market place that is very diverse and spoiled for choice is really to customize solutions for the customer.”

Exploring India’s opportunities and complexities

This session was moderated by journalist and editor Paromita Chatterjee and featured Megha Tata, Managing Director of Discovery Communications India, Anuj Gandhi, Group CEO of IndiaCast, and Vynsley Fernandes, CEO of NXTDigital and President at IndusInd Media Communications.

The panel discussed what the video and TV market look like in India – one of the world’s biggest and most vibrant video and TV markets. While India was projected to have over 1 billion online users by the year 2030, the pandemic changed many factors, both on the business model side and in terms of customer preferences.

When the pandemic slammed all industries, Discovery was at a very interesting crossroads, having just entered the digital space.

“It couldn’t have been better timing to have launched Discovery Plus, which happened almost at the day of the lockdown in India,” Tata said.

She noted that in the next six months, a “tectonic shift” took place across the entire industry – a change that was expected to happen only in the next 5-7 years.

“I think the key is that these 6-7 months have taught us that content will continue to be the king,” Tata added.

Echoing this, Gandhi noted that while the consumer is ultimately the king, going forward, the quality of content, the technology used, and the pricing will all be key in securing audiences. In addition, making the discovery of content easier for people will also play a crucial role.

“The next big frontier for all platforms will be how to make this discovery easy – discovery of content, how convenient it is, and how easily you can watch it,” Gandhi added.

While customers’ preferences and approach to content consumption changed to a great extent during the lockdown, for NXTDigital, what helped them to stay ahead of the curve is that they had a clear business continuity plan in place, noted Fernandes.

He explained that while individuals at the upper end of the income spectrum consumed more OTT, in rural markets, there was a shift from Free To Air package to a standard definition pay package.

“So we’ve been witness to an entire evolution happening and probably being accelerated by the pandemic,” Fernandes added.

The way ahead: will regulation make or break the industry?

Led by John Medeiros, Chief Policy Officer of AVIA, this session discussed how regulation would affect the largely-unregulated streaming video industry. It featured panelists Gidon Freeman, a VP at NBCUniversal, Shanta Arul, Director, Strategy & Development for Netflix Asia Pacific, and Tarun Katial, CEO of ZEE5 India.

Katial is also the Chairman of the Digital Entertainment Committee at the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), which has drafted a new version of the Self Regulatory Code for online curated video players in India. This came at a particularly relevant time considering recently-announced changes to how OTT platforms in India will be regulated.

Medeiros pointed out that while “high regulatory barriers negatively affect the growth and investment that is coming from this industry,” they also don’t want to run into conflicts with regulators, and want to be “accountable and responsible.” The best way forward, he added, is to maintain transparency and open lines of communication between the industry and governments.

On the Asian side, Arul noted that with the industry being at a very nascent stage of growth, they are trying to not “rush towards any kind of regulation without a full appreciation of the differences between the services in the media ecosystem.”

In this vein, one step proactively taken by content creators in India was the creation of a self-regulatory Code of Conduct, which Katial said that 18 services have signed in order to protect both the consumer and the creative freedom of the creators.

The panel also discussed the importance of a governance framework where Freeman noted that the alternatives to this framework are government or regulators simply transposing existing regulations on pay TV, “into an area where they are not appropriate” or they “don’t regulate at all.”

Echoing this, Katial added, “you need a basic minimum level of standard that you collectively agree to so that there is quality and there is protection.”

The Summit brought together over 130 thought leaders in the video industry and had around 900 attendees from across the globe. With the pandemic hitting industries worldwide, the Summit offered insights into its impacts on the video industry and the challenges ahead.

As part of the Summit, AVIA also hosted The State of Piracy Summit on 4 November, to discuss the steps taken against piracy in the region. Furthermore, there was the invitation-only Policy Round Table on 4 November and the Anti-Piracy Sports Roundtable on 6 November.

During the Summit, AVIA also released ‘The Asia Video Industry Report 2021’ and ‘A Governance Framework for Online Curated Content Services.’ The Summit came to a close on November 12.

Header image courtesy of Asia Video Summit

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