Southeast Asia provides an interesting palette for those wanting to examine the digital landscape of any major region. Here’s why-there is very little doubt that the region has registered impressive growth in all things digital. What’s interesting is the diversity in this growth, especially when it comes to mobile application usage. It is, to put it mildly, rather unevenly distributed!

Let’s quickly set the stage. As per the Digital in 2017: Southeast Asia report jointly released by We Are Social and Hootsuite, digital indicators, such as the percentage of active social media users (47 per cent), mobile subscriptions (133 per cent) and active mobile social users (42 per cent) continued on an upswing. Meanwhile, internet penetration over the past year grew by over 30 per cent, largely driven by mobile internet usage alone.


Source: We Are Social

Breaking it down further, as per Deloitte’s Global Mobile Consumer Survey (the Southeast Asia edition), the use of mobile applications has increased significantly across the region. Having said that, though, the application spectrum across these regions is, diverse, to say the least. For example, in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, social networking applications rule, whereas, customers in Singapore and Thailand turn to messaging and gaming respectively. In fact, customers in this region also utilize voice-assistant applications for lifestyle and information updates, such as weather or sports, navigation or travel assistance.

Social Media Gains Prominence

There’s no escaping it-we live in a social world and Southeast Asia is no exception. Why? Simply because subscribers prefer to share content on these channels, of course! As per the report, the number of social media users registered a 31 per cent increase over the past year. This essentially accounts for 72 million subscribers using social media platforms for the first time in the 12-month period before January this year.solving-the-southeast-asia-digital-content-puzzle2

Source: We are Social and Hootsuite

A closer look at these numbers reveals some very interesting facts. For starters, Brunei heads the regional rankings for regional social media use. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of Singaporeans use social media each month, but barely one-quarter of the populations of Laos and Myanmar are using social media today. Speaking of which, Myanmar is quite an intriguing case study. Merely five years ago, Facebook was still blocked in the country. That was then, though and since this has been lifted, usage has taken off, with 14 million subscribers! The twist, of course, is that 6 million of these users only joined the platform in the last 12 months. All this has translated into 84 per cent year-on-year growth in social media users-amongst the highest in the world!

Unsurprisingly, Facebook emerged as the clear winner across the region. The report states that the platform net a staggering 305.9 million monthly active users, of which, 89 per cent accessed the site on their mobile handsets. Speaking of which-mobile social media also registered a dramatic increase-with the number of monthly active users accessing social platforms via mobile devices up 34 per cent year-on-year.

Mobile Messengers: A Mixed Bag

The mobile messenger landscape in the region is, at best, mixed. Simply put, several players are competing, without a clear winner. Overall, a clear divide exists between regional and western platforms.

For example, as per the report, LINE is particularly popular in Thailand. So much so that the country features in the platform’s top four global markets. On the other hand, BBM rules the roost in Indonesia, and is, in fact, one of the last remaining global strongholds for the once omnipresent messenger platform. However, data from other sources reveal that WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and LINE all now have more active users in Southeast Asia’s most populous nation.

Meanwhile, Facebook Messenger has displaced Viber in the Philippines, and quite spectacularly so. According to data released by GlobalWebIndex, the former is now almost twice as big as Viber in the region! Facebook Messenger seems to have made a mark in Vietnam as well-industry data suggests that it has nudged home-grown platform Zalo to second place in terms of monthly active users. Last but certainly not the least, WhatsApp leads the pack in both Singapore and Malaysia. It has overtaken Facebook Messenger (to second) spot. But it doesn’t end there-both WeChat and LINE have a rather significant customer base in these countries too!

Mobile Gaming Takes Control

According to OneSky, the Southeast Asian gaming market is pegged to become a $2.25 billion market by 2018. No small stakes, these! Unsurprisingly, the youth segment in this region is single-handedly responsible. A Newzoo report states that gamers between the ages of 10 and 35 made up the biggest proportion of players. In Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, gamers in this age segment made up 50 per cent or more of all mobile gamers. In addition, gamers in this region more often than not make it a daily habit to access gaming applications on their smartphones. The result? Increased revenue opportunities for game manufacturers, of course, apart from a very healthy boost to the segment overall!

Mobile-based video: Still Standing Tall despite Competition

As per industry reports, the mobile video space in Southeast Asia has a number of players jostling for room. In a nutshell, this space includes some familiar players, particularly YouTube at the regional level. Interestingly, Facebook is also widely used to distribute video content.

Now, here’s where it becomes slightly murky. While these platforms are free and rely on advertising for revenues, subscription-based video services are also rearing their heads. Most notably, Netflix has launched its subscription-based services in a number of markets across the region. To add to the chaos, there are also a growing number of both national and regional content providers, with a mix of advertising-funded and subscription-based models.

Content Monetization: A Long-Standing Challenge

Like its contemporaries, Southeast Asia’s digital content space, too, has its share of challenges. Arguably the most significant of these is monetization of digital content. Now, the question here is-how can operators monetize their vast library of digital content, keeping in mind the region’s diversity and contradictions?

As per the GSMA, a number of measures can be a viable solution:

  • Providers of applications like mobile video and television-on-demand can drop their prices to leverage the opportunity provided by the millennial segment’s preference for micro-payments over monthly or annual subscriptions
  • Bundling third-party content: Operators can ink partnerships with existing video-on-demand platforms (such as Netflix or Hulu).
  • Building their own video content platforms: An increasing number of operators in the region are looking to develop their own content platforms, with business models mainly split between freemium and subscription.

Permit me to offer another perspective-making non-linear media interactive, in order to create new services. Say, for instance, allowing customers to connect with the celebrity of their choice. In this case, the content being pushed won’t be a one-way street; it would connect people and make the entire experience engaging and interactive. And (arguably) the best part? The customer is more than willing to pay for this!

In sum, the Southeast Asian digital content space continues to (and will continue to) surprise. Operators, don’t lose heart, though, there are still numerous untapped opportunities this space has to offer. Stay tuned for more!


Atul Madan

Atul Madan

Atul Madan, Chief Operating Officer - Mobile Lifestyle Solutions, Atul has over 20 years of experience and has held a variety of senior executive roles in the software and telecom domains. At Mahindra Comviva,...